Pizza art

Phillip Brents

Fri April 25, 2014 12:34pm

Chula Vista residents have fallen head over heels for Project Pie’s tasty brand of custom-built artisan pizzas. Perhaps that’s no real surprise as franchise partner Brian Mills acknowledged that 90 percent of Americans eat pizza.
But Project Pie’s offerings are clearly something special in the marketplace.
Mills owns the San Diego region franchise rights. The first restaurant opened last November in the Chula Vista Center on the city’s west side; the second location, on the city’s east side, opened April 7 in Eastlake Village Center South.  
The Chula Vista Center location continues to do brisk business after six months; the new Eastlake store was greeted with an immediate stampede of customers.
“Wondrously unexpected big,” Mills offered in an understatement. “What we discovered is that a lot of our customers at the first location actually lived in the Eastlake area and had been going over there.”
They don’t need to travel far any longer. The second restaurant is located at 2260 Otay Lakes Road and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Lines have been out the door. That has only sparked further interest from passers-by. In particular, the outside patio has quickly become a hot spot. The atmosphere is casual and friendly, starting with the staff.
Mills said the Project Pie customer base in Eastlake is heavily skewed toward families, and the area’s newest eatery has a firm commitment of being a valued member of the community. At the forefront of the business plan are fund-raisers, particularly for youth groups.
“We’re offering a 50-percent donation,” Mills said. “It’s a great way to get people to try us and to give something back.”
People are coming back — in droves. Mills said the Eastlake restaurant is serving upward of 500 to 600 pizzas on an average day.
Design, build, eat
The concept at Project Pie is built around quality ingredients while providing quick service. The pizzas themselves cook in three minutes. Mills said the goal is to have a completed product within six to seven minutes after a customer walks inside the door.
Think of a Subway-style production line but for artisan pizza. Customers have the ability to design and build their pizzas from a wide selection of fresh ingredients at a very affordable price.
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. The thin-crust pizzas are then fired in the very hot oven.
Project Pie’s pizzas are one set price — customers can add as many toppings as they like, whether it’s two toppings or 26. Toppings include pepperoni, Italian sausage, crumbled meatballs, bacon, grilled chicken, prosciutto, 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 and sea salt.

Also available on the menu are salads, sweets and Boylan’s 100-percent natural pure cane sugar fountain drinks (free refills).
Project Pie’s concept is as catchy as it is tasty. The emphasis is on the healthier side of pizza-making (customers can customize their pizzas with gluten-free crust). After tasting the product, it’s difficult to disagree. Customers can order either custom-built or house-signature creations.
Affordability and product satisfaction have been 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 heavy heading back to work. Despite the build-your-own concept, Mills said about 60 percent of orders are for signature pizzas (seven to choose from).  Popular signature pizzas include the barbecue chicken (No. 6), pesto and feta (No. 3) and cracked black pepper and olive oil (No. 5).
“We’ve noticed that new customers are still trying to figure out what they like by experimenting with their orders,” Mills noted. “More people are getting comfortable with the build-your-own pizza concept.”
Project Pie also offers take-out orders (on multiple pizzas); Mills noted take-out orders are increasing. There are plans for online ordering in the near future.
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. “Eastlake is like its own island. We’re excited to offer our quality product for years to come. Eastlake residents deserve to have great pizza and we’re excited to fulfill the need with our new restaurant.”