Chris Bianco didn’t want to close his namesake pizzeria in downtown Tucson, but on Saturday night that’s exactly what he did.
Just over two years after opening a restaurant many viewed could be a game changer for downtown, Bianco pulled out.
Bianco said he is looking for a new Tucson location either in an old building that he can rehab as he did the 2,000-square-foot space at 272 E. Congress St., or build new on a vacant lot. He said he has not determined where he will go, but he wants a space where he can create a complete Pizzeria Bianco experience that would include more accessible parking and patio dining — two things that Bianco said he could not accomplish at the downtown location.
Bianco on Sunday said closing was one of the hardest decisions he has had to make in his 30-plus-year restaurant career that started with his flagship downtown Phoenix restaurant that he opened in 1994. This is the first time he’s ever had to close a restaurant.
“For us, I think that the challenges that were presented were a little bit much to overcome,” Bianco said, citing construction of the downtown AC Hotel by Marriott on East Broadway and South Fifth Avenue, behind the pizzeria. Bianco’s landlord Scott Stiteler is developing the hotel project.
“I understand the progress of construction. I think the hotel is going to be great when it’s built, but for us I didn’t feel that we were capable to deliver the experience that I wanted to,” Bianco said.
Bianco said he and Stiteler mutually agreed to allow Bianco to exercise an early exit from his lease agreement for the 2,000-square-foot space that’s next to Stiteler’s restaurant The Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery and adjacent Playground Bar and Lounge. Bianco would not specify the terms of the original lease and Stiteler could not be reached to comment on Sunday.
He said none of his 10 employees are affected by the closing. Most will continue working with Bianco in Tucson catering jobs using a portable wood-fired oven.
Bianco announced in April 2013 that he planned to bring Pizzeria Bianco to Tucson at a time when East Congress Street was undergoing the beginnings of a major resurgence. New restaurants, including Flagstaff-based Proper and Diablo Burger, and several businesses including The Cadence student housing complex were driven by the prospect of the Sun Link streetcar, which was in the final stages of construction when Bianco started renovating the historic space in summer 2013. At the time he had anticipated opening that November or December.
The restaurant, specializing in wood-fired artisan pizza, opened seven months later, in late July 2014.
“I am so grateful for all the support,” said Bianco, 54, the James Beard Award-winning chef who operates several restaurants in the Phoenix area. “I hate letting even one person down. I understand if people are disappointed; I know I am. We did all that we could do in that location.”
Pizzeria Bianco is the second restaurant to leave Congress Street this summer. Flagstaff-based Proper, 300 E. Congress St., closed in June, with the owner citing personal reasons.