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New players in the growing segment — Social Life Pizza, Custom Fuel Pizza, and Garage Brewing Co. & Pizzeria — expand upon traditional offerings with craft beer or a full bar.
Social Life Pizza
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Joe DeSantis has long been in the pizza business as founder of the LA Italian Kitchen concept, an eight-unit pizza-by-the-slice concept in food courts and casinos.
But the value equation for pizza by the slice doesn’t work well in a world of cheap chicken wings and dollar-menu burgers, DeSantis said. So he developed Social Life Pizza, a concept that taps his strong ties with suppliers of Italian ingredients and raises the bar a bit in terms of customer experience.
“I liked the idea of being able to produce a product that’s high quality and quick,” said DeSantis, Social Life’s chief executive.
Social Life offers Neapolitan-style, 12-inch pizzas with guests building their pie as they walk the service line, or choosing among house specialties. The crust is crispy with “the right chew,” said DeSantis, using made-from-scratch dough that has been fermented and hand stretched. Pizzas are baked in a domed Forno oven at high temperatures.
Pizzas range in price from $5.25 for a “simple tomato pie,” to about $7.50 for a custom-built pizza with unlimited toppings. A dessert “cannoli pizza” is topped with a sweet ricotta cream with chocolate chips and drizzled with chocolate sauce and maraschino cherries.
Unlike most fast-casual pizza concepts, however, Social Life offers ten craft beer options on tap featuring a rotating array of local microbreweries, along with a selection of California wines.
“We get the best of both worlds. During the day we sell a ton of lemonade, but at dinner people drink beer and wine. So far we’re seeing our beer sales exceed soda,” said DeSantis. “I’d love to partner with some local breweries.”
The 2,500-square-foot restaurant is in a strip center end cap with an outdoor patio. A second location is scheduled to open at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in early 2014.
DeSantis said he’s working on a franchise model, though he plans to continue opening company-owned stores. Social Life Pizza is based in Tustin, Calif.
The fast-casual pizza world is getting increasingly crowded, he acknowledged. “There are so many thousands of brands of chains and franchises, but really there’s a lot of room for growth in our industry,” said DeSantis. “There will always be customers that want to try something different.”