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Los Angeles: 'Spice It Up' at The Pizza Studio

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[Photographs: Kelly Bone]

The Pizza Studio

3584 S Figueroa St Los Angeles, CA 90007 (Map);213-763-6123; mypizzastudio.com
Pizza type: Thin crust
Oven type:Conveyor belt
The Skinny:Fast Casual Assembly line pizza with lots and lots and lots of variety
Price:$7.99 Unlimited toppings / $5.99 'Starving Artist' specials

"Variety's the very spice of life." Or, at least, so says William Cowper and all your cliché-filled friends. At The Pizza Studio, variety may not be the spice of your life, but it does appear to be the key to selling a whole lot of pizzas to long lines of happy customers.

In the swirl of fast-casual pizzerias opening all over Southern California (and beyond), The Pizza Studio sits back and quietly watches. In January 2013, they unlocked their doors with no fanfare or promotion; the people haven't stopped pouring in. Of course, it helps to be adjacent to the massive student population of USC.

Samit Varma, a venture capitalist and pizza lover, conceived of opening his own assembly line pizzeria, but knew that he needed a restaurant-savvy partner. That's where Ron Biskin comes in. President and COO of Native Foods, Biskin is the former head of Wolfgang Puck Express Licensing. With additional tenures at Baja Fresh, Burger King, and TGIF under his belt, it seems likely that swift expansion is in The Pizza Studio's future.

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Like almost all the other players in the Chipotle-style pizzeria movement, The Pizza Studio is serving crisp, flatbread-style crusts. Like only some of the other players, they're also offering unlimited toppings for $7.99. If you stick to one of their predetermined toppings combos or "Starving Artist" specials, the price drops to just $5.99.

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Samit rules with a sharp eye, reinforcing pride of work in every employee (his seven years on a US Navy nuclear submarine probably helped). His team of 'Pizza Artists' begins with one of four crust options: Traditional, Whole Grain & Flax Seed, Rosemary, or Gluten-Free (+$2). Next, they top it with one or more types of sauce and cheese. Hey, why not?! It is unlimited toppings after all. But we're just getting started, because then there are ten standard veggies, five house-roasted veggies, and nine nitrate-free meats to choose from.

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All the house roasted veggies: Eggplant, Broccolini, Red Bell Peppers, Carmelized Onions and Zucchini

The options don't end at the chunky toppings. Five Subway-style shakers wait to "Spice It Up" at the end of the line. The Old Bay or Truffle Salt usually end up on my pizza. This week, the chewy whole grain crust, with punchy basil pesto sauce, feta, and all five of the grilled vegetables is my "masterpiece"—so says the side of the take-out box.

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My barren sea of pineapple and jalapeno and a pesto, goat cheese and artichoke pizza.

I ran into some major inconsistency in the amount of toppings applied. One day, my pineapple and jalapeño pie was a barren sea of mozzarella with a few green and yellow islands; on my next visit, the Pizza Artist built Mount St. Pineapple on my pie. Considering that we're talkin' about unlimited toppings here, the Pizza Artist has to help customers avoid overloading their pies without veering into stingy territory. It's a tough position to be in, and I find it best to give them a little guidance—Just a little goat cheese, please! A lot of jalapeño, thanks!—since only you know how crazy you're going to get.

The menu also offers "Finishing Touches" like arugula, BBQ sauce and a balsamic glaze, but I honestly have yet to figure out how to actually order them. Do I ask for it when I pay? Do I hover over the kitchen and yell it out when my pizza comes out of the oven...I have no idea.

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Foregoing the open, flame gas ovens of fellow pizzerias like Your Pie and Project Pie, The Pizza Studio has instead turned to a conveyor belt convection oven, as seen at The Pizza Press and Uncle Maddio's. This learning-curveless method delivers consistency throughout the shifts and for future expansion. You can't escape the sealed-in exterior texture of the hydraulically pressed and par-baked crust, but this crust is still bubbles up when it's run through the oven.

With two keen business minds behind this project, a plethora of variety, and a motivated assembly line staff, The Pizza Studio is set up for commercial success. The thin crust is unoffensive and so heavily loaded with toppings that its middle of the road quality is muddled. The abundance of unlimited, quaity toppings at a friendly price is the ultimate selling point. It doesn't attempt to supplant your favorite pizzeria, but can certainly fill the void between worth-the-wait-pies and have-it-your-way fast food.

About the author: After nearly a decade in Brooklyn, Kelly Bone landed back in Los Angeles where she writes The Vegetarian Foodie. She spends the rest of her time designing office cubicles... you might be sitting in one right now! Follow her on Twitter at @TheVegFoodie

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