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Serial Grillers pair launching Detroit-style pizzeria in Tucson
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Serial Grillers pair launching Detroit-style pizzeria in Tucson

Travis and William Miller are opening Transplant, a Detroit-inspired pizzeria next door to their Craft, A Modern Drinkery taproom on East Speedway. They hope to open July 1.

The brothers behind Tucson’s Serial Grillers are turning their attention to Motor City for their next culinary venture.

William and Travis Miller are launching Transplant, a Detroit-style-inspired pizzeria next door to their Craft, A Modern Drinkery taproom at 4603 E. Speedway. The brothers began construction two weeks ago to convert the 2,300-square-foot space at 4605 E. Speedway into a pizzeria that will connect to Craft through a 12-foot opening.

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Travis Miller said the brothers leased the space last July after the Cricket Wireless store there closed.

“We’ve been trying to get into it for about a year and a half,” Miller said, but the brothers ran into delays with city and county permits and a lack of funds, all courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craft, which had averaged $3,000 to $4,000 a day in sales, saw business plummet to $100 on a good day after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered non-essential businesses.

The order “exposed a really big flaw in our business” model for Craft, Miller said.

The brothers had relied on food trucks and beer-centric events to bring in customers, but with the pandemic, the food trucks disappeared, and so did the customer base. Even when the shutdown orders were partially lifted early last summer, bars and taprooms were only allowed to open their dining rooms if they served food.

That’s when the brothers decided to add Transplant, a pizzeria inspired by the Detroit style of deep-dish pizza the Millers had fallen in love with after trying it in San Francisco and the Phoenix area.

Detroit-style pizza is square, with a focaccia-bread-like crust. It’s topped with cheese and meats and veggies, then finished off with sauce either before it’s baked or added after it comes from the oven.

Until Pizza Hut rolled out its version of Detroit-style pizza a few months ago, it’s a safe bet not many people in Tucson had experienced it, Miller said.

“I think it’s actually my favorite pizza style I’ve ever had,” he said, adding that he is enamored of the pillowy essence of the square crust and the way the cheese melts into the edges when it bakes, creating a crispy crunch.

Miller said he is not attempting to recreate the Detroit pizza you would get at the legendary Buddy’s Pizza — the predecessor of the Pizza Hall of Famer Buddy’s Rendezvous Pizza. Instead, he is taking inspiration from Buddy’s to create what he calls pizza “born in Tucson, inspired by Detroit.”

Transplant will join the Miller brothers’ four Serial Grillers restaurants — 1970 W. River Road, 5975 E. Speedway, 7585 S. Houghton Road and 5660 W. Cortaro Farms Road in Marana — where pizza shares the spotlight with inventive sandwiches and burgers named after famous TV serial killers.

Pizza has been something of an obsession for Travis Miller, who takes the lead on creating the menus at their restaurants. The brothers launched Serial Grillers as a food truck solely focused on cheesesteak-style sandwiches back in summer 2012.

“What started Serial Grillers is I wanted to open a pizza place,” recalled Miller, who became a little obsessed with pizza during his three years stationed with the military in Italy.

But Tucson back in 2012 was saturated with pizzerias, so the brothers focused on cheesesteaks, which were underrepresented. A year later they opened their first brick-and-mortar, offering pizza as the cornerstone in addition to the sandwiches that made their food truck so popular.

Adding Transplant to their portfolio — which also includes Toro Loco Tacos Y Burros at 7940 E. Broadway and Boulevard Barbecue & Fixins at 5737 E. Speedway — is a natural, Miller said.

“I think it’s something we are comfortable doing. We’ve done well with pizza in the past so I felt it was kind of an easy thing to do,” he said.

In addition to pizza, Transplant will offer pasta, salads, a fried chicken sandwich and a cheeseburger.

Miller said he hopes to open on July 1.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch


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