If you drive by the new Hollywood Pies dine-in location, which officially soft opened this past weekend in West Los Angeles, you just might miss it. Taking up a humble 26-seat residence that fittingly used to house former pizza dive Pizza Mania, the location now sports a modest square sign of their logo protruding out and over the sidewalk on Pico Blvd., subtly announcing their presence. You might even find yourself accidentally walking into the neighboring Vietnamese café by mistake, only to be kindly instructed to go “next-door for pizza.”
Since we broke word last Spring about Hollywood Pie's new permanent location, deep dish fans and loyal customers have been eagerly awaiting the opening. Expect extended hours (though now closed Mondays and Tuesdays) and a few new specialty menu items. Though they hadn't been “officially” open for dine-in until this weekend, pie-curious locals have been randomly showing up to the barely-finished space for pick-up orders and a sneak peak of their new neighbor.
Thrust into the spotlight in June 2011, thanks to an outing by the Eater LA, Hollywood Pies has achieved the type of success many startup restaurants could only dream of having in such a short amount of time. And with a little help from repeat pie-hards and better known customers like Shonda Rhimes and Jessie Williams, owner David Miscimarra has proven that you don't have to be Mario Batali to run a successful pizza business.
So, why the delay to open? Although the location had been secured early last year, it had remained under wraps for a long while. Successfully surviving on pick-up orders and delivery for the past two-years, the addition of serving dine-in customers is a big shift and Miscimarra told us simply, “they wanted to be ready.”
Squid Ink recently sat down with the (not-so) “mysterious” owner of L.A.'s favorite
Chicago Hollywood deep dish pizza to get the scoop on what customers can expect at the new location. He talks to us about the secret to great deep dish, his thoughts on being described as a “drive-by-pizza-drug-deal” and becoming an unlikely pizza man.
Squid Ink: Congratulations on the new space! Do you feel “official” now that you have an actual storefront?
David Miscimarra: Well, I think the sign helps. It helps to finally give it a face. It's not going to be a full-service restaurant. We're calling it, dine-in. It'll be casual, but I'm not going to do paper plates or anything like that. We're going to have real plates and silverware — It'll be somewhere in between Mozza and Joe's … a comfortable place for people to come and eat pizza but without the scene.
SI: Right now, your website features 12 different types of deep dish. What changes can customers expect?
DM: Well, we are not going to be changing our website's menu. That's 'Hollywood Pies' and this here is almost a separate business model. It's going to be a little pizzeria. Whatever you see on the chalkboard is going to be for dine-in guests only. We're hoping this will serve as a cozy place for the neighborhood and whomever wants to come by, bring a bottle of wine, eat pizza and listen to some good music.
SI: We dig the bright orange walls, big windows and relaxed feel of the space. How did you consider the design?
DM: Typically what you would find in Chicago, is a place that's most of all, comfortable. Nowadays restaurants are so sterile and noisy with harsh surfaces, marble and metal chairs. It doesn't feel welcoming. I designed and thought up everything you see, from the pizza to the tables. It's fun for me, as I'm a design engineer by trade. I like to build things. There will be no TV's or anything like that. I want people to come and actually talk to the people they come in with. I am not a fan of people on cell phones and all this 'noise.'
SI: And the menu?
DM: In addition to the deep dish, there will be various salads, cannolis and maybe even dinner specials on certain nights like chicken vesuvio, homemade meatballs and angel hair pasta. I did consider doing a thin crust version, as I'm Italian and I wanted to offer the option, but ultimately our customers know us for our deep dish, so why confuse people? I may still offer it as a special on some nights. For drinks I'd love to make homemade ginger beer or grape soda, like the real way with the carbonation that comes from the fermentation.
SI: Do you know how to do that?
DM: I've never come across anything I couldn't figure out. Follow the directions. It's all just a process.
SI: Do you consider yourself a cook or a “pizza man?”
DM: I think it's one and the same. Knowing how each ingredient reacts with one another in the whole scheme of things, you sort of have to know how to cook. I used to volunteer to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family and everything was from scratch. Learning, I would sit and watch my sister and my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. When you pay attention and watch someone for 20 years, you begin to pick up a few things. Watching them make applesauce from whole apples, it sort of demystified the whole cooking process of food in general for me.
SI: Years after you passed up a businesses opportunity to invest in a friend's (now very successful) pizza establishment in Atlanta, you decided to open up your own pizza place. Essentially you're a guy from Philly making Chicago-style pizza in Los Angeles. Explain how all this came about?
DM: I was born just north of Pittsburgh. I lived in Chicago for close to 12 years and that's where I most consider home. Chicago has great memories for me. I was working as an engineer when I was there and then I moved to San Diego. My girlfriend and I looked around and noticed that L.A. didn't really have any (good) deep dish. San Diego already had Berkley Pizza. The owner, who went to grad school at UC Berkley, based it off of Zachary's and Little Star in San Francisco. I wanted a challenge. I had dabbled with making deep dish pizza at home and I would often make it for my friends and co-workers. The recipe just evolved from my kitchen. It hasn't changed much since we first started out. I didn't try to duplicate anything from Chicago. It's an authentic Chicago deep dish recipe. The two key elements being the crust and the sauce. People compare us to Lou Malnati's and Gino's East, and those are awesome compliments.
SI: We no longer need to smuggle pizza in our suitcases back from Chicago. Thanks for that! What's your secret to a great deep dish?
DM: Use high-end ingredients; the sauce, the cheese, the dough. That right there is your flavor. What more do you need? I think the finest Italian cooking is the simplest. The guy that I admire the most is Mario Batali. He cooks quality ingredients very simply. Also, don't over mix the dough!
SI: Why the name “Hollywood Pies?”
DM: The name has nothing to do with Hollywood actually. I liked that when we were kicking around the name, the last thing you conjure up is Chicago deep dish. I didn't want to be compared to any one Chicago place. We are in Los Angeles after all, and we are not trying to recreate a Chicago pizza. We definitely feel like we're creating a specific brand out here.
SI: How has social media helped your business?
DM: The Internet has been a big help for us. The week after the Eater LA article, Thrillist contacted us and said they did a video. Jeff Miller called me and I didn't know who Thrillist was. My nephew who was 25-years-old and lives in Philly was like, 'Uncle Dave, that's really cool, you should do it!' They did a video and we had over 3,000 web page views that day.
SI: The video depicted you guys as being some sort of “shady” back ally pizza-drug-deal. For those who haven't been following you since the beginning, you used to conduct transactions curbside, right? Sounds dangerous.
DM: We have crazy stories from that place. It was technically a delivery. We had a fully licensed catering kitchen, we weren't advertising and we didn't even have a sign. It was essentially a catering order with pick up downstairs. That was actually the same location of Roy Yamaguchi's first restaurant back in 1984.
SI: So, to set the record straight once and for all, you weren't a shady pizza-drug deal?
DM: Haha. No, we weren't making them at home or in some guy's house. How could we have even executed that?
SI: You guys have achieved success fairly quickly and you seem to be a very business savvy person. Why not just open up a restaurant from the start? Did you have a grand strategy?
DM: Everything sort of fell into place. We found this commercial space and we had access to this catering kitchen — we could deliver and have pick up. I was still working my day job, insanely trying to come up here on a Friday morning at noon. It would be sometimes a four hour drive getting to West Hollywood.
SI: Commuting every day from San Diego? Yikes! You were essentially an engineer by day and a pizza man by night.
DM: That only lasted about a month. Probably the biggest cost to me was commuting and leaving my job to come up here.
SI: So, back to the Eater LA article for a sec, what happened when it came out?
DM: At the time, I didn't even know who they were. They got word of our opening and wrote a story. We were handing out flyers on the street and had just been open like a week or so. They had all these questions. We were just planning to grow (our business) slowly… I didn't even want all this press just yet. I didn't give them my last name, which caused all this stuff about me being a 'mysterious' pizza man and I had said, I want it to be about the food, not about me. They ran the story and that was that. I think Jessie Williams ordered that first week.
SI: Jessie Williams, the Grey's Anatomy actor?
DM: Yeah. He's from Chicago. I was looking back at those tweets from the beginning. We pretty much hit the ground running. It's really neat and it's been worth it.
SI: We bet there are a ton of Chicago people who give you love.
DM: Oh yeah. Sam Raimi, Shonda Rhimes, some people from Mad Men, the Walking Dead guys. Our core is all Midwesterners, Chicagoans, people from St. Louis or Detroit. I really had no idea that deep dish was such a die-hard Midwest staple. I'll see former Chicagoans driving up from Long Beach — it was really great when we first opened to see all the different area codes from where people were calling. Now we are so busy, we had to condense our delivery area. It's just not feasible delivering to the entire city of L.A.
SI: You've essentially put deep dish on the map here in L.A.
DM: I left a job making six figures and sitting in a cubicle all day. I was bored to death. I gave it all away to do this. For me, this wasn't a financial endeavor. I had it much better sitting at the cubicle. But at this point, if we were to close the doors, I could say we've succeeded wildly, as quickly as we had to. We've had customers who say they have been ordering from every one of our locations, which is a huge compliment. We have been claimed by our customers and that's the best feeling.
Hollywood Pies: 6116 1/2 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 337-3212.
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