Slicing a niche in Tucson’s fast-casual pizza pie

Grant Bennett of Eclectic Cafe is the latest restaurateur to jump into Tucson’s pizza frenzy.

Bennett hopes to open the flagship of Pionic Pizza, which he is confident will grow into a chain of restaurants with locations outside of Tucson.

“We are convinced that what we are doing is going to work and it’s going to be incredibly popular,” said Bennett, who plans to open his first Pionic Pizza in a 3,000-square-foot building at 2643 N. Campbell Ave. that used to house Sparkle Cleaners. The restaurant could be open as early as late June or early July, he said.

Pionic will specialize in single-serving, fast-casual pizzas that customers will order much as they would at Subway or Chipotle. Customers will select from different doughs, cheeses, sauces, meats and veggies then wait for no more than three minutes while their individual pizza is baked in an oven heated to 800 or 900 degrees.

Pizzas will cost around $7.

Bennett’s opening could come just a few weeks ahead of California upstart Pizza Studio, which is opening a shop in the retail cluster of the new University of Arizona student housing tower at 1031 N. Park Ave. Owner Trace Biskin, a former UA offensive lineman and the son of the restaurant’s founder, said construction begins next month. He plans to open in July.

Bennett said he believes there is room in the Tucson market for Pionic Pizza and Pizza Studio and “many more like me.”

“I think we are redefining the way that people think about pizza. It’s not just Chicago vs. New York style now,” he said, noting that his competition will not be the neighborhood pizza joint that delivers but the corner made-to-order sandwich shop.

“This is something that the city hasn’t seen before,” he added. “It’s going to be fast-casual pizza. We are going to try to be the first.”

Biskin, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UA, said he also plans to open multiple Tucson locations. Pizza Studio operates under the same basic concept as Pionic except that pizzas are baked in a conveyor belt oven, Biskin said.

Biskin’s father, Ron, opened the first Pizza Studio in 2012 in Los Angeles. There are nearly 40 franchises in development.