COLUMBIA — Two new build-your-own-pizza restaurants will be claiming their own slice of downtown Columbia's pizza scene in the next few months.
MidiCi, a Neapolitan pizza concept out of California, plans to open on the ground floor of The Lofts on Broadway in July. West Main Pizza2 (pronounced "West Main Pizza Squared"), the second location of Jefferson City-based West Main Pizza, plans to open in a few weeks in the space formerly occupied by Gunther’s Games on Broadway.
For about $9 per pizza, West Main Pizza2 customers can add as many toppings as they want. Gluten-free crust is also available. Co-owner Jessica Christiansen said all the ingredients are fresh — they don’t freeze anything — and each pizza serves one to two people.
"The main thing with us is that it’s basically like sub-sandwich style, but for pizza," Christiansen said. She said another notable aspect is the speed — her goal is to have customers' orders cooked and ready in under 5 minutes.
Christiansen, an MU graduate, chose to open the location in Columbia because she likes the city and feels a connection here. She lived in Columbia until she was 10 and still has family members living here.
"Hopefully we’re going to have a very fun atmosphere that people want to be a part of," she said. "So I think that the downtown Columbia vibe is something that we wanted to tap into."
MidiCi's focus is Neapolitan pizza, which typically features thin crust, tomato sauce and mozzarella as a base, and is cooked in hot wood-burning ovens. For MidiCi franchise owner Bernie Squitieri, authenticity is important.
The pizza there will be made from fresh, non-genetically modified organism ingredients mostly imported from Italy, and there will be Italian olive trees growing in the restaurant, he said. The ovens reach temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees and cook each pizza in 90 seconds.
Squitieri called MidiCi’s concept a "category disrupter." While he said many trendy restaurants consider themselves "fast-casual," he hailed MidiCi as "fast-fine."
"We have pizza served on porcelain plates," Squitieri said. "We have stemware for our wine, we have silverware, no paper plates, no paper napkins. It’s a much higher scale."
Currently, the only MidiCi restaurant is in Sherman Oaks, California. But Squitieri said the company has sold over 300 franchises nationally, and Columbia will be the first of them to open. Squitieri is planning a three-day grand opening event around the time of the store’s opening.
"Columbia’s going to be the spotlight for the United States," Squitieri said. "There’s going to be a lot of money riding on this. Lots of people have bought into this concept."
Squitieri eventually plans to open five MidiCi locations in Missouri. He said the main reason he chose to begin in Columbia is because he sees potential in the college town atmosphere, and plans to donate 1 percent of his sales to the football and basketball teams.
The competition from other downtown pizza places, such as the established favorite Shakespeare's and the popular newcomer Pizza Tree, does not faze him.
"This is going to blow everything away," he said. "I’ll tell you this: I’ve researched every pizza place and concept in the United States. There is nothing that can compare to this concept. Nothing that compares to it."
For Christiansen at West Main Pizza2, the competition is a welcome challenge.
"I think some competition is healthy obviously because it improves everyone’s product," Christiansen said. "But I think the speed for us is one thing, and the fresh ingredients and the customization. Those are the things that really set us apart."
Supervising is Jack Witthaus.