New artisan pizza shop to open on Tucson's east side

2013-08-17T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T10:30:22Z New artisan pizza shop to open on Tucson's east sideBy Cathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Aaron May is about to expand his restaurant empire in Tucson with a pizzeria set to open in September.

The Heist artisan pizza shop will take up residence in the space that housed My Big Fat Greek Restaurant until early May.

“It’s going to be awesome. I’m very excited about it,” said May, who has two other Tucson restaurants — the 3-year-old May’s Counter Chicken & Waffles on East Speedway near Country Club and The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen, which opened last December in the Foothills Mall. May opened a second Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen in Sierra Vista in April.

But May isn’t finished yet; he plans to open two more restaurants here in the next year.

“I’ll have five places in Tucson in the next 12 months. I’m looking for a new house down there and I’m planning on spending a lot of time there,” said May, who attended the University of Arizona before going to culinary school and opening his first restaurant in Scottsdale 10 years ago.

“I have an affinity for Tucson that far surpasses my affinity for the Phoenix/Scottsdale area,” he said. “I want to be down there.”

If all goes as planned, May will open The Heist Sept. 16, offering a menu of artisan, wood-fired pizzas, a trio of house-made mozzarellas — buffalo, smoked and burrata — pastas, vegetable side dishes, salumi boards, salads and a dozen beers on tap, including Italy’s Peroni and Arizona craft brews.

“We’re looking to bring in some really great ingredients and do some really fun stuff,” he said.

The 13-inch pizzas will run $10 to $16; side dishes will run $3 to $6; and regular menu entrees will not top $20.

May is in the middle of a complete renovation of the 3,800-square-foot building at 7131 E. Broadway that he said will make it “completely unrecognizable inside and out.” Among the highlights will be a pizza counter adjacent to a dressed-up bar area that will allow diners to see cooks prepare the artisan pies and pull the house-made mozzarella. The patio will be partially converted into a bocce ball court.

May said he wants to create much more than a pizza parlor; he’s aiming for a restaurant “that’s cool and fun, but also very family friendly and approachable.”

“We’re doing something that is really different. ... It’s not just about the pizza; it’s about the whole experience,” he said. “There are plenty of places to get really good pizza all over the world. ... One of the things that we have been focusing on is the experiential nature of going out to eat.”

The Heist joins May’s Lettuce Turnip Beets restaurant group’s 13 restaurants throughout Arizona and in Colorado. But this one is near and dear to his heart.

“I grew up in Chicago and I lived in New York, so obviously pizza has played a strong part of my dietary habits for years,” said May, who spent 2½ years researching the concept by visiting pizza parlors around the country. “I’m living the battle of Chicago versus New York pizza.”

May said he is close to signing two leases, one of them for Tucson’s first outpost of his popular Over Easy breakfast restaurant. The other lease will house a new concept that May said he is not yet ready to discuss.

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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