Jumping into an increasingly crowded niche, a new fast-casual pizza concept is scheduled to debut this May in Southern California.
Dubbed Pizza Pizzeria, the new concept is being created by industry veterans Frank Fronda and Rodelio Aglibot, who also have the culinary consulting firm Pilot Light Group in Los Angeles. Joining them on the project is Charlie Candelas, formerly of Wolfgang Puck’s empire and Darden Restaurants, who is directing business and operations.
Pizza Pizzeria joins a growing list of concepts gunning to become the “Chipotle of pizza,” with an assembly line format that allows guests to build their own pies. Other growing brands that have cropped up in Southern California alone over the past few years include Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, 800 Degrees, PizzaRev, Project Pie, and Pieology.
Candelas said Pizza Pizzeria is the brainchild of Fronda, a whose prior experience includes the Los Angeles restaurants Napa Valley Grill and Café del Rey, as well as the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire.
Fronda designed the concept about three years ago — before fast-casual pizza was one of the hottest niches — but he got distracted by other projects with Aglibot, formerly the chef at Los Angeles restaurants Koi and Yi Cuisine, as well as at The BLT Group and Sunda in Chicago.
Candelas contends a more crowded landscape will only spur on Pizza Pizzeria because it has created awareness of the format. “Now it’s a race to see who can create scalability and mass first,” he said.
Candelas' prior experience includes building Wolfgang Puck Express units with foodservice contractor Delaware North, and he later spent 11 years with Darden growing the Olive Garden brand, he said.
Pizza Pizzeria will be under the Pilot Light umbrella, he added. The concept has funding from investors to open three locations this year, probably all in Southern California.
Key to the concept was getting the pizza dough right, according to Candelas. The 10-inch pies begin with a house-made, fermented dough that is hand-stretched, offering a “chewy and crusty” bite, said Candelas. “We don’t use presses, like a lot of the others do. We don’t feel that does justice to the dough.”
Guests can choose between the classic dough and an organic, whole wheat version. Pizzas are cooked in a gas-fired stone oven, which takes about three and a half to four minutes, he said.
Toppings and ingredients will be top quality, often locally sourced and seasonal, Candelas said. Pizzas start at about $6 with toppings at about 50 cents each.
The menu will also include a few pastas, like a single serving “cupcake lasagna” baked in the stone oven, Candelas said, as well as three or four seasonal salads. The restaurant will offer wine and beer.
The first location in Redondo Beach, Calif., will be about 2,600 square feet, with a patio, but Candelas said the concept is being designed for growth into flexible spaces, ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet.
Unlike other fast-casual pizza players, however, Pizza Pizzeria is not currently planning to franchise. “We want to maintain the integrity of the brand,” Candelas said.
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