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July 25, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Competitors vie for piece of the downtown pizza pie

Las Vegas Weekly coverage

Downtowners better have a big appetite for pizza.

Three restaurants opening this year — Pizza Rock, Slice, Radio City Pizza — will be added to four already selling pizzas on and around the Fremont East Entertainment District: Uncle Joe’s, Pop Up Pizza, Piccadilly Pizza Fremont, and, downtowners say, Luna Rosa, which is a pizzeria/Italian restaurant in Neonopolis.

That makes seven places peddling pizza within roughly one-third of a mile of each other.

If you think this means war, as in price war, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Owners say their offerings will be so different that a customer who eats at Slice, which would offer organic, locally produced ingredients, might not care for Pop Up or Luna Rosa.

Xhindi “Uncle Joe” Hazbi, who in June will mark his 17th year operating Uncle Joe’s, soon will face competition directly across the street from Radio City Pizza. A block north of those two, Slice is expected to open before summer.

Hazbi said he wasn’t worried about the competition because he will offer a lower per-pizza price and “a better sauce, better quality, a better slice.”

All the same, he is planning to install a front window that allows both a better view of the pizza-making process and allows him to sell pizza through a small opening to people outside.

Radio City Pizza is expected to open within weeks at the site of a former cigar shop; construction already includes one of the little windows to the sidewalk.

As for competition, Radio City Pizza owner Elias Ghanem said his place would differ from Uncle Joe’s in many ways, price included, but also in experience.

“We’re focused on customer service and food quality and trying to create a great ambiance,” he said, noting "RCP" would have something unique among old and new downtown pizza joints: a backyard bar adjacent to a fire pit. “We want it to be a place where people like to hang out.”

Slice was founded by Miki Agrawal, who opened her first Slice in 2005 in New York City. The second incarnation will be in retail space on the first floor of the Ogden, at Ogden Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. Agrawal couldn’t be reached for this story, but the Las Vegas City Council approved a special-use permit for the store. This past week it was announced Slice should be open by summer.

One detail that puts the focus on the competition between Uncle Joe’s and Slice is that Downtown Project investors are putting money into Slice, but they also own the space leased for Uncle Joe’s.

Hazbi’s lease is until 2015. Meanwhile, he admits to worrying about the possibility that when the lease ends, he could be pushed out, especially if Downtown Project investors decide one less pizza place would be better for Slice.

He also added, however, he has been assured he would not be forced out.

“And I want to stay,” he said, adding that if he leaves, he likely will retire from the business.

• • •

Uncle Joe’s, Radio City Pizza and Slice are east of Las Vegas Boulevard. To the west and closest to the boulevard is Luna Rosa. Walk inside — its tables are covered with thick linen, dark woods accent the dining area and the interior has a decidedly Italian restaurant feel — and you're struck by how different it is from the other pizza places.

Piccadilly Pizza Fremont, a block west of Luna Rosa, has been under the Fremont East Experience canopy since many downtown newbies were knee-high to a grasshopper. Watching the place one morning last week, there seemed no end to the sporadic-but-steady stream of customers stopping. Piccadilly has seating but most of the people seemed satisfied just to get a slice then eat it walking away.

Pop Up Pizza is four blocks further west, inside the Plaza at the end of Fremont. Pop Up has a feel that's more like a casino food mall than a restaurant. Though Pop Up's furnishings are sparse, many downtown vow it's one of the best pizzas they’ve tasted.

Still to come is Pizza Rock, whose first restaurant is in Sacramento. Construction of Pizza Rock Las Vegas is expected to begin by the end of this year, said a woman who answered the phone at the Sacramento store. The Las Vegas store will be on the northwest corner of Third Street and Ogden, two blocks west of Slice.

Pizza Rock’s pizza already has earned distinction internationally, by the way; in 2007, its owner, Tony Gemignani, won first place for best Neapolitan pizza in the World Pizza Cup competition in Naples, Italy. He became the first American to ever win the award.

So who will win the downtown pizza competition?

Maybe there won’t be a winner. Restaurants existing and planned appear to offer prices and products varying enough to fit the budgets and palates of a wide variety of potential customers.

And in the end, differentiation might not even matter; when it’s 110 outside and you’re looking for pizza, the closest place with air conditioning will likely do just fine.


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  1. Shame on you, Joe!! You completely missed one of East Fremont's treasures, Sicilia II on the 1300 block. Jimmy makes the best pie I've found Downtown in the two+ years I've lived here. The decor sucks and the neighborhood makes snobs run screaming, but the menu is great -- excellent old-world lasagna, ravioli, and such. And they deliver!

    I've also heard Albo's is also pretty good, but I like Jimmy's.

    "They say music is the food of love,
    Let's see if you're hungry enough,
    Take a bite, take another, just like a good boy would!
    Get a sweet thing on the side,
    Home cooking, homicide,
    Side order, could be your daughter,
    Finger licking good!

    Come on baby, eat the rich,
    Put the bite on the [S.O.B.],
    Don't mess up, don't you give me no switch!
    C'mon baby and eat the rich,
    C'mon baby and eat the rich!" -- Motorhead