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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Late to The Plate?

Amit Kleinberger, chief executive of the Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt chain in Encino, has his next great idea: personalized fast-cooked pizza – even faster. The greater Valley already has several chains headquartered here pursuing the same niche, but Kleinberger believes his eatery MidiCi can do it faster – with a 1,000 degree wood fire oven that cooks pizzas in 90 seconds – while still providing what he claims almost amounts to a fine-dining experience. MidiCi opened its first location June 13 in Sherman Oaks, and since then the restaurant has maintained a steady flow of traffic. “The ambiance, the environment, the various seating arrangements, the food – everything about it is about bringing friends together,” Kleinberger said. “When you come into MidiCi it’s a place to converse and to connect, and people right away understand that message.” MidiCi’s 90-second pie is faster than other fast-casual pizza chains in the already saturated Los Angeles market. For example, PizzaRev, a chain based in Westlake Village that launched in 2012 and now has 26 outlets, averages under three minutes of cook time. Blaze Pizza, a chain based in Pasadena, takes about two minutes. Other competitors in the gourmet pizza space include Pieology in Rancho Santa Margarita and L.A.-based Pizza Studio. Kleinberger calls his pizza restaurant a “fast fine” experience that he claims is not in the same category as the competition. The 4,000-square-foot pizzeria features an open kitchen and an assembly line of servers who toss mozzarella, goat cheese, pepperoni, shrimp and an assortment of other cheeses, meats and veggies atop a crust made of flour imported from Italy. Prices range from $7 to $14 and customers can take it to go or eat in the restaurant, which Kleinberger encourages. “I want people to linger as long as possible. I’ve designed everything in the restaurant to encourage lingering, (even offering) wine and beer,” he said. Bob Puccio, president of Business Solutions Now, a food service consulting firm in Westlake Village, is not convinced the fast-fine concept will go over well with costumers, noting that speed is one reason the pizza segment has succeeded. “People come to fast-casual so they can get their pizza fast,” he said. “Why would you want your pizza in 90 seconds if you plan to hang out for an hour? There’s a little incongruity there.” Track record Still, customers are coming and, according to Kleinberger, they are lingering. And if his past success is any measure, MidiCi could be a real contender. Menchie’s, which was founded in 2007, celebrated the opening of its 500th location last month. The Encino-based frozen-yogurt chain is partially owned by Kleinberger and a small group of individuals. MidiCi is a completely separate company founded by Kleinberger with a small contingent of investors. Kleinberger plans to open 100 outlets of the pizza restaurant in the next two years using the franchise model of expansion. He would not disclose how much he invested to open the flagship store in Sherman Oaks. At present the founder said he has more than 60 units in various stages of development throughout the U.S. and more franchisees continue to join the company with an estimated investment of $500,000 to $600,000 per store. “I am a big believer in the franchise model. You end up getting this incredible pool of talent that operates under your brand, and it’s a growth platform that is not only effective but high quality,” he said. Inspiration for MidiCi came from a trip Kleinberger took to Naples a few years ago. He fell in love with the Mediterranean culture as well as the food. He formulated a working concept for a restaurant chain in 2012 and has worked on it ever since. To capture the Italian feel, the restaurant has a well-stocked salad bar, an assortment of appetizers and desserts, a selection of wines and a full coffee menu. But the main attraction is the pie, also based on his Naples visit. “Neapolitan pizza is the better pizza – it’s very simple,” he said. Positive reviews Lynn Gay, an employee at iHeartRadio Inc. in Sherman Oaks who works across the way from MidiCi, said she and a few co-workers have visited the 14612 Ventura Blvd. restaurant twice since it opened in mid-June. And they stay for their lunch breaks. “I like everything about it. The food is good and we just appreciate the little extras they give to the place,” Gay said. The décor is a restaurant version of the retro industrial look favored for “creative office” properties. Floor-to-ceiling windows and bright white walls lead up to exposed wooden rafters. Brass piping and white marble recall the Mediterranean heritage of a pizza parlor. Couches and loveseats line the walls, and a large table that can seat 16 people surrounds an olive tree imported from Naples in the center of the restaurant. With free Wi-Fi and music playing softly for ambiance, Kleinberger said the environment is “conducive for interaction (and) not overwhelming.” Still, Puccio said MidiCi may have a difficult time differentiating itself from its competitors. “I think it’s a question of whether he’s here too late. Not only does he have to bring new customers into this segment, but he’ll have to take customers away from the competition already in place,” Puccio explained. “Oversaturation will cause some casualties.”

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