Restaurateurs are banking on an apparently growing appetite for pizza, with at least 10 having opened outlets in the Spokane area since the start of the year.
Those that have launched new eateries this year include larger brands such as Mod Pizza and Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, but most are locally-owned establishments, such as Allie’s Vegan Pizzeria & Café, Republic Pi, Piccolo Artisan Pizza Kitchen, the Foxhole Bar & Pizza, and Holeshot Pizza & Brew.
In addition to new restaurants opening, other local pizza places have been successful enough with their first locations that they’ve either opened or are planning to open additional outlets. Among those are Lalo’s Pizza & Calzone, Brother’s Office Pizza and Bennidito’s Pizza.
Following a lengthy delay, another local favorite, David’s Pizza, also reopened this past April in a new location at 803 N. Post, near the Spokane Arena.
“It does seem like everybody’s opening a pizza place, doesn’t it?” says Bennidito’s owner Chris Bennett, who opened his second location, a restaurant and brewpub at 1909 E. Sprague three months ago.
Bennett got started in the business back in 1993 as a co-owner of David’s Pizza.
“Back then it was all chains, hardly any sit-down restaurants, and almost none that used fresh ingredients,” says Bennett. Eventually he sold his share in David’s and opened Bennidito’s, which is coming up on its 20th year at its first location at 1426 S Lincoln.
Over the years, Bennett says, he’s noticed a trend towards smaller, artisan-style pizzas with more variety in toppings.
“It’s funny how people trend toward spending more money on a smaller pizza,” he says. “I see so many places using fancier ovens to make smaller pizzas, with all kinds of different toppings.”
Bennett says his pizzas are different in that the restaurant makes its ingredients.
“We make dough and sauce fresh daily. We cook and smoke the meat used in toppings,” he says. Bennidito’s offers delivery, carry-out and dine-in options.
“Lots of sit-down pizza restaurants don’t offer delivery and carry out,” he says. “We do all three.”
Bennett says he’s been in the business so long because it’s a fun industry.
“Pizza is just good,” he says. “Both kids and adults love it. How many people do you know who don’t like pizza?”
Kaci Pratt., who manages MacKenzie River Pizza restaurants at 2910 E. 57th, on the South Hill, and at 818 W. Riverside downtown, says, “I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of pizza places opening around town.”
MacKenzie River, based in Whitefish, Mont., has another restaurant here, at 9225 N. Nevada, and one in Coeur d’Alene, at 405 W Canfield. Its newest outlet here, which it opened two years ago, is the one located at the prominent downtown intersection of Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street.
“I do think there is sometimes a push for more local businesses,” says Pratt. “But I think we do a good job of providing that same down-home, family-friendly feel. That’s something that we’ve always valued.”
Pratt says that the advantage to being part of a larger pizza franchise is the support gained from the company’s years of experience in the business.
“We get a lot of support from our corporate office. We also have consistent recipes that our customers have loved since we started in 1995,” she says. “We have a great menu with a great tradition of service.”
As mentioned earlier, other larger franchises such as Bellevue-based Mod Pizza and Los Angeles-based Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza also have begun moving into the Spokane area.
While Blaze just opened its first Washington state location at 926 N. Division in September, Mod Pizza already has two Spokane eateries and one in Coeur d’Alene. Its South Hill location in the Regal Plaza shopping center, at 3104 E Palouse Highway, opened last April, and a downtown restaurant in the Crescent Court building, at 707 W. Main, opened last month.
Not surprisingly, some smaller pizza shop owners, like Rhonda Entener, contend the size of the business makes a difference in atmosphere and service. Entener co-owns Piccolo Artisan Pizza Kitchen, which opened in Liberty Lake early last month.
Entener says she and fellow owner Patrick Fechser saw the need for a sit-down pizza restaurant.
“It was all just take-out chains,” she says.
The restaurant is located in Hay J’s Marketplace at 21718 E Mission, in what Entener says customers see as an intimate space.
“Guests have said it’s a cozy and inviting atmosphere. It’s the kind of place where you could take a special date, but also somewhere you could bring the kids for a fun night,” she says.
Entener says Piccolo, which in Italian means small, is content to remain so.
“I think sometimes owners get excited to expand too soon, and end up spreading themselves thin,” she says “Being smaller makes it easier to keep giving guests the personal touch and quality service they’ve come to expect from us.”
While she hadn’t noticed a particularly large amount of pizza places opening, Entener says she has noticed the trend toward the artisan-style, thin-crust pizzas.
“It’s really popular. The focus is on toppings other than cheese. I think it’s probably a sign of people wanting to eat a little healthier,” she says.
Although franchises like Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza and Mod Pizza are following those trends, offering customers artisan-style, custom-built pizzas with multiple toppings and gluten-free options, one local pizza place makes vegan and gluten-free pizza its exclusive specialty.
Allie’s Vegan Pizzeria & Café owner Atania Gilmore, who opened the restaurant last March, says while most customers come to her restaurant because they’re vegan, some who stop in are not.
Located at 4803 N. Nevada, Allie’s makes its own cheese, sauces, and dough. Also, being a café, Allie’s offers soups, salads and sliders, taking into consideration sensitivities to gluten, dairy and nuts.
Gilmore says she chose to open a pizza place because she wanted to share vegan food options, and because pizza is a national favorite. “It’s like America’s No. 1 favorite food,” she says.
Some pizza restaurants such as Holeshot Pizza & Brew keep it simple, sticking to the old combo of pizza by the slice and a cold drink. Owner Kevin McRae opened Holeshot last May in Spokane’s River Park Square, along with a beer and wine bar next door called The First Turn. Both are located in the mall’s third floor food court.
“I think customers are looking for great service and traditional, top-quality pizza,” says McRae.
Holeshot cooks pizzas in a brick oven, selling both whole pizzas and pizza by the slice. McRae says convenience also plays a part in Holeshot’s business. “It’s a fast choice for lunch, as we sell it by the slice with beer and wine available right nearby,” he says.
He feels there’s an advantage in not being part of a franchise.
“There’s a bit more ground work going in, but in the end I make the final decisions on specials and prices,” says McRae. “Holeshot provides great service and a great product. All we need now is a little more exposure.”
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