When Clinton Gray and partners Derrick Moore and Emanuel Reed decided to slice into Nashville’s food biz, the obvious choice was pizza.
Once this was settled, Gray and his partners only had to think of a concept and a location, which didn't take long, either. After growing up in North Nashville and attending Tennessee State, Gray decided he’d bring an oasis to the food desert that is Buchanan Street by opening a fast-casual, build-your-own pizza place.
Opening mid-March, Slim & Husky’s aims to dish out oblong-shaped pies piled high with gourmet ingredients surrounded by an eclectic, 90s-style hip-hop vibe.
“We've been working on the product now for about a year and a half and are excited to bring a handcrafted artisan pizza to Nashville," Gray said. "We love the Nashville pizza scene, but we wanted to come up with a product that, if you ate it with a blindfold, you'd know you were eating a Slim & Husky's,” Gray told Crain’s Nashville.
Slim & Husky’s will attempt to stand out from the growing pack of build-your-own pizza joints by having the customer fill out which gourmet, local ingredients they want on their pie before going through the line.
“That way we can have more of a personal experience while we're building your pizza,” Gray said.
Along with the card system, the eatery boasts communal seating with the goal of making everyone – from a kid getting out of school to a business professional at lunch – feel welcome.
The restaurant will also differ from traditional build-your-own pizza places in that it will offer customers 14 taps serving the latest local brews, along with a selection of wines.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, celebrity chef-founded PizzaFire plans to open up shop in Berry Hill’s Eighth South development this summer.
Also a build-your-own, fast-casual pizza eatery, its founders help set PizzaFire apart. Sean Brauser and Bruno DiFabio have several awards under their belts, including the “Best Pizza in the Midwest” and the “Best Gourmet Pizza in America.” DiFabio has won the title of “Best Pizza in the World” multiple times and has been a judge on Food Network's popular "Chopped" series.
“No other brand has decorated world pizza champions behind them, and because of that we really feel our product stands alone,” said Director of Business Development Ryan Rao.
The newer pizza chain made the decision to get into the Nashville market after touring the area and realizing that the city is on track for some serious growth. Now, they plan to eventually open up eight Music City locations.
“Other companies similar to us are viewing the massive renaissance and growth in Nashville and they want to be part of the picture. It's a great time to be in the city and I think multiple players can be successful,” Rao said..
Sticking with tradition
Meanwhile, Nashville staple 312 Pizza isn’t worried about competing with newcomers. The Chicago-style pizza place's Staci Bockman said they fully intended to stick with what they've been doing, despite the lengthy time needed to bake their deep-dish pies.
"We keep a very watchful eye on what's going on in the market here in Nashville, but one thing that we have decided is to stay true to our concept," she said. "We understand that our concept of Chicago pizza is a niche.”
In one concession to faster-paced competitors, however, Bockman said her restaurant has begun taking advanced orders.
“We played around with ways to embrace the style that we are while making it more doable for people who aren't as familiar with the Chicago way," Bockman said. "You can call ahead and we'll start cooking the pizza so that by the time you arrive, it's ready to hit your table.”
Despite the growing popularity of fast-casual pizza, 312 Pizza has retained a strong following, and will be expanding to South Nashville this year, Bockman said.