Wesley Chapel Already Has Plenty Of Great Pizza Places. So, Why Are So Many New Ones Still Popping Up?
Pizza may not be the world’s most-perfect food — although some who feel otherwise might fight you over that statement — but it probably is the most popular.
So, as Wesley Chapel grows, and more and more families move in, so do more businesses that sell pizza.
There’s locally-owned traditional pizzerias like 900 Degrees Woodfired, La Prima, Best New York, New York, Bosco’s and Amici Pizza, that sell more traditional NY-style pizzas, to name a few. Mellow Mushroom and Noble Crust (which have both opened in the last year) sell more eclectic pizzas. And, the mega-chains like Domino’s, Little Caesars, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut deal in mostly speedy, high-volume delivery.
“I would say there’s a lot more pizza available in Wesley Chapel than normal on average in other cities (of its size),” says Steve Falabella, the owner of the popular 900 Degrees Woodfired Pizza, which has been at the Shops at Wiregrass mall since 2011. “I think the growth in Wesley Chapel was so fast, the rise of families happened so fast, that there was a rush to capture that. And, one of the most common type of restaurants that go up in new neighborhoods sell pizza.”
Soon, you will be able to add a quickly expanding niche in pizza making to the list of local options: “Fast-Casual.”
On each side of S.R. 56, near the Tampa Premium Outlets, the two fastest-growing fast-casual restaurants in the country will be planting their flags in Wesley Chapel, as MOD Pizza and Blaze Pizza are both entering the market.
The Allure Of New…
On a typical muggy Wednesday afternoon, sitting at an aluminum table shaded by an umbrella, Mike Lightsey is finishing off a slice of pepperoni pizza from 900 Degrees Woodfired. He is passing through on business, and says he eats a lot of pizza. He thinks Falabella makes the best around.
Lightsey says he has tried Blaze, once in Atlanta, and enjoyed that as well. He has never heard of MOD, but is familiar with the trendy fast-casual model, having also eaten at Pieology in Seminole.
“It’s a good change of pace, and definitely something that seems to be taking off,” he says. “I’m surprised Wesley Chapel or even Tampa doesn’t have one yet.”
MOD Pizza, which will be located just west of the Starbucks on the south side of S.R. 56 in front of Costco, is scheduled to open in early-to-mid-September. Blaze Pizza will be located on the other (north) side of 56, but has just started construction. Both specialize in smaller, personal pizzas, where customers choose the toppings and don’t have to wait long for them to cook.
At MOD Pizza, there are more than 30 non-GMO toppings to choose from when constructing your own 11-inch pizza. MOD has its own dough recipe, and the tomato sauce is made in-house daily. No matter how many you choose, the price doesn’t change. The pizzas take only three minutes to cook and can be ordered online for pick-up or enjoyed inside the store.
“We were and are the first super fast-casual chain in the United States,” says Brick Kerge, VP of Operations for Food for Thought Restaurant Group, which owns the local MOD franchise.
Employees are part of the “MOD Squad,” and an emphasis is placed on training a friendly staff that makes the all-around experience and environment something patrons will want to try again.
“This is not just another pizza place,” says Kerge.
Founded in Seattle in 2008, MOD is likely not a familiar name to locals. But nationally, it is the country’s No. 1 fastest-growing chain, according to Nation’s Restaurant News’ list of the Top 10 Fastest-Growing Chains, thanks to 80-percent sales growth in 2016.
When it opens here in September, it will be MOD Pizza’s first entry into the Tampa Bay market, although there currently are four other locations in Florida, with five more — including the Wesley Chapel location — scheduled to open soon.
While MOD is the fastest-growing chain, Blaze Pizza is the second-fastest-growing and has been massively successful since being launched in 2011 by the founders of Wetzel’s Pretzels.
It has quickly grown to include more than 250 locations in 40 states and should be open sometime early next year in Cypress Creek Town Center North.
Driving a lot of the buzz around Blaze Pizza, which also features three-minute pizzas boasting freshly made dough and artisanal toppings, is NBA superstar Lebron James’ involvement as an investor.
Like MOD, Blaze also offers a fast-casual experience where customers select their crust style and then move down the line while adding toppings, at the end of which the pizza is quickly cooked.
These newest entries to the Wesley Chapel “piescape” are hip, trendy and fill a desire for custom-built pizzas with a wide variety of toppings that are not always available at traditional pizza spots. They will be stiff competition for each other, but family-owned pizzerias, and even smaller chains like Westshore and pizza places that deliver, still offer a distinctly different flavor and will likely continue to be popular here.
But Wait, There’s More!
MOD and Blaze aren’t the only local newcomers. In the last few months alone, Amici’s has reopened to rave reviews after moving locations on Wesley Chapel Blvd. in Lutz, and Jake’s Pizza has opened its second location, on County Line Rd. in Meadow Pointe, featuring our area’s first thin-crust St. Louis-style pizza. And, Pomodoro Pizza could be open on S.R. 56, in the same plaza as Wolf’s Den, by the time this issue reaches your mailbox, and will offer New Jersey-style pizza. And, never one to rest on his laurels, Falabella has created a local sensation, especially on Facebook, with his recent addition of no-crust “keto diet” pizzas.
“Which pizza is the best is all subjective,” Falabella says. “I can find 10 people to tell you they like Domino’s the best. I can find 10 who would tell you Pizza Mania is the best. And I can find 10 to tell you that we are the best. There’s no such thing as the best pizza.
“(In Wesley Chapel), Everyone can find something they like.”