When I was producing and hosting my television show, “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” I was often accused of being a food snob.
Anyone who knows me realizes this couldn’t be further from the truth. I cherish a great, fresh-made cheeseburger or a hand-crafted local pizza every bit as much as a meal at Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas’ only Michelin 3 star restaurant.
OK, that’s not true. I would WALK to Vegas to experience another meal of Joel Robuchon! Still, what matters to me more than anything is the freshness and quality of the ingredients and the passion of the people creating the food, not the fact that the food might consist of a six course truffle-themed menu featuring old vine Sancerre and Premier Cru Burgundy (yes, I really had that!).
And, I do love good burgers and good pizza. This article is about the latter — pizza. Specifically, pizza in Kansas City, which has exploded in both quantity and quality since I first moved here in 1989 as a young(ish) anchor/reporter at KMBC-TV.
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As I survey Kansas City’s pizza landscape, it seems to me that both local joints, those with one or two locations, were thriving along with the chains.
Also, there is a sharp division in the type of pizza chain out there. Sure, there are the ubiquitous, national names that serve cookie-cutter, middle-of-the-road versions of pizza where volume and price are the motivating factors.
More interesting to me are the local chains like Minsky’s, and Spin Pizza, which started local before moving into markets from Omaha to Dallas, the Bay Area to Orange County, Calif.
I recently tried a third option, Pizzeria Locale, which has entered the KC market from Colorado, and I was both pleased and intrigued by its operation.
Of the local pizzerias, I’ve long been a fan of Waldo and d’Bronx, though newer outlets like Il Lazzerone, which has its original location in St. Joseph, and Pizzabella in The Crossroads, among others, are welcome additions to the Kansas City pizza scene.
Today, I’d like to focus on the stories of Spin Pizza and Pizzeria Locale, both offering different takes on Neapolitan-style pizza and fast casual service.
I sat down with Gail Lozoff, one of Spin’s founders, to get her thoughts on Spin’s launch, its expansion and the niche it has carved out in Kansas City and is trying to capture in markets as far reaching as Dallas, Orange County and the Bay Area in California.
“We were out of Einstein Brothers (Bagels), and my husband, our partner, and I were all thinking separately about opening a Neapolitan-style pizza place,” Lozoff recalled. “We started brainstorming, and as things often happen in these cases, a week later, a space opened up.”
It took about nine months to design what would become the first Spin at 119th and Lamar, and another six months to do the build out and get things right in the kitchen.
With James Beard-award-winning chef Michael Smith on board to oversee the food, a solid concept and the space spot on, the original Spin was a hit. The growth spurt that followed was almost immediate.
Spin now has 11 locations in and around Kansas City, including one in Lawrence and another in Warrensburg, Mo. A few years ago, franchise opportunities grew Spin to 18 restaurants in five states. That’s hardly going to threaten the “big boys” of the pizza world, but it’s no small achievement.
Lozoff doesn’t like to use the word chain when it comes to Spin, but she does admit having 18 locations poses certain challenges.
In 2015 “we opened eight restaurants. It was really stressful So (we took 2016) to retrench a bit,” Lozoff said. “I don’t know that we’ve really changed that much. The menu is a lot bigger than it used to be, but we’re lucky to have a lot of people who have been with us for a long time, which makes the experience for the customers very much the same.”
You’ll find the motto “food with integrity” on the Pizzeria Locale website.
For partners and James Beard-award-winners both Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson, a chef, and Bobby Stucky, a wine expert, that means, among other things, pizzas made with the very best fresh ingredients fired in an insanely hot oven delivered to your table in five minutes.
All of that taking place in a pleasant, family-friendly ambiance.
“I really look at this as ‘fast fine,’ ” MacKinnon-Patterson told me. “You take the fine touches that you would find in a fine dining restaurant — cuisine, hospitality, flow and ambiance — and you incorporate them into the everyday experience at Pizzeria Locale.”
MacKinnon-Patterson got his culinary start in Missouri as a prep cook at a St. Louis country club. After securing an art history degree from Washington University in St. Louis, MacKinnon-Patterson traveled the world, gaining experience and vision at restaurants throughout Europe and the United States.
He joined forces with Stucky in Boulder, Colo., opening Frasca Food & Wine, a neighborhood restaurant that was wildly successful in no large part by offering excellent cuisine, terrific service, top-notch wine, and a lovely ambiance, all in a casual restaurant.
With Frasca’s success, MacKinnon-Patterson and Stucky set their sights on pizza, sending their top manager to study at the Holy Grail of pizza, Naples, Italy. What they wound up with is what MacKinnon-Patterson calls a “super pizzeria.”
“We wanted a pizza revolution — to have an impact on an industry where 99 percent of the product is junk food — terrible and terrible for you,” MacKinnon-Patterson said.
Pizzeria Locale is doing that one restaurant at a time. Like Spin and Lozoff, MacKinnon-Patterson eschews the use of the word chain.
“One the most important things is that we’re not a franchised pizza business. I get a dozen emails a week from people who want to franchise Locale. I’m flattered, but I don’t want that. Our goal is to expand slowly.
“We’ve been at this for four years and we only have seven restaurants. And keep in mind, our biggest partner is Chipotle. But they realize as we do that you lose the heart and soul of the concept if you grow too fast,” MacKinnon-Patterson said.
With nearly half of all the Pizzeria Locales located in the Kansas City Metro and two-thirds of the Spins calling KC home, along with all of the other pizzerias popping up, I’d say Kansas City’s pizza scene is pretty darned strong and definitely tasty!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.