Paul Hibler works  on a pie at Pitfire Artisan Pizza in  West Hollywood.

Paul Hibler works on a pie at Pitfire Artisan Pizza in West Hollywood. Photo by Thomas Wasper

Before Nancy Silverton opened Pizzeria Mozza in 2006, there were few places Angelenos could go to find the kind of handcrafted artisan pizzas she serves. But pizzerias dishing up similarly styled pies have been popping up all over Los Angeles lately, and more are in the oven.

Pitfire Artisan Pizza, for example, a small Venice chain with five locations, will nearly double by opening four more pizzerias in the next 18 months.

Though his Pitfire predates Mozza, co-founder Paul Hibler said he gives Silverton credit for popularizing artisan pizza in Los Angeles.

“We’re eight years older than Mozza, but I think they really started this,” he said. “Nancy really opened the eyes of people in Los Angeles.”

Other pizza restaurants slated to open this summer include dinner-oriented Italian places Soleto and Trattoria Neapolis, opening by the end of the month in downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena, respectively. In addition, two Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza locations, a fast-casual concept by Rick and Elise Wetzel of Wetzel’s Pretzels, will open in Irvine in July and in Pasadena in September. Another fast-casual pizza concept, 800 Degrees, opened in Westwood in March.

While chefs seem to be running to get a slice of the artisan pizza pie, those who have been around longer said it’s not that easy.

Hibler said chefs can’t expect to succeed if they haven’t taken the time to learn how to craft a good pizza.

“You don’t just buy a pizza oven and start making pizza, then expect that it’s going to be good,” he said. “It’s a craft like any other; it requires time to develop your style. You can’t skip to the end.”

Rick Wetzel said that’s why he and his wife hired L.A. chef Bradford Kent of Olio Pizzeria & Café to help develop the menu for Blaze.

“He has spent years in front of the oven, and he brings that to our chain,” Wetzel said. “It gives us a big advantage. That’s why I think I’ll be one of the guys who come out on the other side. It’s easy to get into the pizza business, but it’s hard to make a really good pizza.”

Innovative Dining Group will open Soleto shortly. The company currently owns and operates 11 restaurants in Los Angeles, including Sushi Roku and BOA Steakhouse restaurants. Lee Maen, a partner at Innovative, said he has a lot of respect for people who have perfected their pizza skills. But even though making pizza is a departure from what the company has done in the past, he believes the restaurant will be successful.

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