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Got pizza? ‘Build-your-own’ Project Pie comes to Chula Vista Phillip Brents | Tue, Nov 19 2013 12:04 AM

Project Pie Custom Pizza Restaurants will offer customers a new spin on the “Got pizza?” question when the first South County franchised store opens its doors in Chula Vista Center on Monday (Nov. 18).

Customers will have the ability to design, build and bake quality artisan pizza from a wide selection of fresh ingredients — and ready to eat in five minutes in what company officials term an affordable price.

The first Project Pie restaurant in the country opened in December 2012 in the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel, and the first San Diego restaurant opened in Hillcrest in February 2013. Both are corporate ventures.

Project Pie San Diego, the first franchisee in the United States, has accelerated its expansion plans with its first store location in Chula Vista. The company hopes to capitalize on the opportunity to create a dominant “design-build-eat” custom pizza chain throughout San Diego County.

Project Pie has already garnered awards for its custom pizzas. This summer, Thrillest.com awarded Project Pie Best Pizza in San Diego.

“We are very excited to be opening our first franchise restaurant in Chula Vista,” said owner of Project Pie San Diego Brian Mills. “Our great atmosphere, quality food and impeccable service will bring a fantastic option to the Chula Vista community. We’re excited to offer our quality product for years to come.”

Proven success

Mills has been successfully building pizza franchises for the past 21 years. In 1997, he opened the West Coast’s first Papa John’s in Pacific Beach. By 2005, Mills had a total of 26 stores, employed 1,000 San Diegans, and was awarded Papa John’s International Franchisee of the Year award. 

His pizzas quickly attracted the attention — and taste buds — of South County diners.

After selling the San Diego stores, Mills became owner and operator of 86 Papa John’s stores in Colorado and Minnesota. But after 21 years of selling and eating what many might term “cardboard box” pizza, Mills embarked on a mission to offer better artisan pizza.

Mills plans to expand the Project Pie concept throughout San Diego County to 10 locations with an emphasis on bringing custom artisan pizza to people quickly and at a good value.

Mills is also attaching the concept of customization beyond the pizza to the actual restaurants themselves. The Project Pie vision is to have a chain of one-offs (indie restaurant feel — the non-chain chain) that includes “the beast” (stone hearth oven) and a unique menu (it’s on the wall, literally).

Design, build, eat

It doesn’t take a celebrity chef to know what tastes good on a pizza, which is what’s behind Project Pie’s build-your-own design concept. The process starts with a tortilla press that’s been modified into a dough press. From there customers move down the line and choose from a large selection of fresh toppings. Project Pie’s pizzas are one set price — customers can add as many toppings as they like.

The grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 22. The new store is located at 555 Broadway, Suite 140 (near Starbucks).

Pepperoni, Italian sausage, crumbled meatballs, bacon,  grilled chicken, Canadian bacon, green bell peppers, jalapenos,  roasted red peppers, red onion,  mushrooms, cilantro, tomatoes,  black olives, gorgonzola, feta,  ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella,  garlic, pesto, pineapple, fresh chopped basil, artichokes, rosemary, sea salt.

Also available on the menu: salads (Caesar, mixed greens, pizza), sweets and fountain drinks (free refills).

Taster’s choice
The new eatery’s motto is “progress in pizza.” After sampling the product it’s difficult to disagree.

Customers can order either custom-built or house-signature creations. Actually, custom-assembled might be a better word choice.

When you walk in, it’s almost like Subway, except for pizza. A professionally trained staff (workers rotate positions every few minutes to create a full hands-on approach to the artisan pizza-making process) assists customers in the selection of ingredients – one presses the dough, another pours on the sauce base, another handles cheeses and so on down the line.

The thin crust pizza is then fired in the oven (it’s “really, really hot,” according to a warning sign) and, presto, five minutes later a complete artisan pizza is ready to be picked up.

The atmosphere is casual and friendly, starting with the staff.

Boylan’s fountain soda is served to go with the pizza. The soda machine features free refills. The sodas are made with pure can sugar, no preservatives and no artificial colorings, The birch beer is both refeshing and thirst-quenching.

Project Pie’s concept is as catchy as it is tasty.

“I think it’s fun, a fun casual place,” Chula Vista store manager Roland Realica explained. “It’s started from one corporate store and it’s starting to expand.”

Affordability and product satisfaction are the leading ingredients to success. Each pizza (11.5 inches in diameter) costs $7.75 (with the exception of the basic cheese pizza at $6.50), regardless of the amount of toppings.

All sodas are $1.95.

For about $10, it’s a perfect lunchtime experience – and one that will not leave the customer feeling bloated or greasy heading back to work.

“We have the healthier side of pizzas,” Realica continued. “Our service is what makes the difference. We have the fun, friendlier side of customer service.”

Despite the build-your-own concept about 60 percent of orders are for signature pizzas (seven to choose from). 

“Once people order a custom-built pizza, the second time they order a signature pizza,” Realica said. “Most of our signature pizzas have one topping that makes it different.”

Popular signature pizzas include the barbecue chicken (No. 6), pesto and feta (No. 3) and cracked black pepper and olive oil (No. 5).

Mills said Chula Vista was chosen as the start-up model because of its somewhat unique community make-up.

“Chula Vista is a great market because it’s kind of a self-contained area that’s opening up,” he said.

Plans are to open a second restaurant in Eastlake next spring.

“We’re ready to connect our name to customers in Chula Vista,” Mills said.

The Project Pie pizza boss said another reason of using Chula Vista as a starting point was what he referred to as its “loyal employee base.”

“We’re hoping to take our well-trained employees to open other stores,” Mills said.

Business hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For more information, call 621-2979 or visit the website at  www.projectpie.com.

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