California pizza chain making inroads into Tucson, Phoenix

2014-02-05T00:00:00Z 2014-12-04T12:34:53Z California pizza chain making inroads into Tucson, PhoenixBy Cathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

An upstart California fast-casual pizza chain is booming into the Tucson market with plans to open at least five locations over the next three years.

The Pizza Studio’s maiden Tucson restaurant could open as early as June at 1031 N. Park Ave., in the center of a cluster of University of Arizona student housing complexes. The restaurant will be next door to the former home of a Domino’s pizza shop, near East Speedway.

The year-old chain also has a development deal in Phoenix that includes 20 locations over the next five years, the first of which will be downtown and is expected to open in March.

Judging by the influx of new restaurants in the past year, pizza has apparently replaced the burger as Tucson’s latest culinary obsession. In October, Aaron May opened Heist Pizza Parlour at 7131 E. Broadway, coming months after Ari Shapiro introduced his artisan pizza shop Falora Pizza & Espresso at 3000 E. Broadway in early 2013. Coming next: James Beard-winning pizza chef Chris Bianco will open Pizzeria Bianco at 272 E. Congress St. later this month or in early March.

Tucson salad and sandwich shop Choice Greens introduced a create-your-own pizza to its menu of salads and sandwiches in mid-January at its 2829 E. Speedway location; it has a second location at 4205 N. Campbell Ave.  The thin-crust pizzas, available daily after 3 p.m., are baked in a high-temperature oven that cooks the pies in three minutes or less, co-owner Paolo DeFilippis said.

Choice Greens’ pizza has been a year in the works and is designed to complement the restaurant’s salads, not replace them.

“It’s important that we remain a chopped-salad restaurant that serves pizza,” DeFilippis said. “Pizza is something that a lot of customers crave. It crosses all demographics as well. It’s families; it’s teenagers; it’s college students. It crosses the board.”

The Pizza Studio, the brainchild of California businessman Samit Varma, is in the early stages of a franchise frenzy with nearly 150 outposts under development for 2014. The company is not just opening one or two locations in a market; it’s opening dozens. San Diego, already saturated with more than 1,000 pizza restaurants, will get 20 within the next five years, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Pizza Studio opened its first restaurant in January 2013 in Los Angeles, across from the University of Southern California. The company fancies itself as pizza’s fast-casual answer to build-your-own sandwiches. Customers can “Create Your Own Masterpiece” by selecting from a plethora of meats, cheeses and vegetables and a handful of crusts, much as you would when you order a sandwich at Subway. Eleven-inch pies are $7.99 for unlimited toppings and $5.99 for one- or two-item ready-made “Starving Artists” pies.

The Arizona restaurants are franchise operations, a company spokeswoman said.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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