Pizza is hot off the stone at The Big Slice LLC, which made its southside debut last month.
The New York-style pizzeria opened Feb. 21 off Kansas Expressway and James River Freeway – the second storefront for the business that began in 2013 on East Sunshine Street.
“I wanted to get on the south side, and it had been in the plans for a while,” says owner Levi Grant.
The 3,000-square-foot restaurant, which called for $200,000 in infill work, comes on the heels of the original pizzeria exceeding $1 million in 2019 revenue, Grant says. He anticipates the south Springfield store will generate at least $650,000 in its first year, akin to the original pizzeria’s first year sales.
The Big Slice has grown quicker than its owner expected. Grant says the Sunshine Street pizzeria has recorded steady sales increases of $50,000-$60,000 each year.
“I haven’t changed anything, and we’re not even advertising. It’s all word of mouth,” he says.
Grant chalks it up to the unique taste of New York-style pizza. Now, he plans to franchise the concept, and the Kansas Expressway store is the first step in those efforts. Childhood friend Justin Kennedy split the initial investment of the new pizzeria, and he plans to later buy Grant’s share of the store.
“We’re getting busier and busier every day,” Grant says. “There’s nothing like our flavor and style in town.”
New York-style pizza is made with a hand-tossed, thin crust that is cut into large, foldable slices. The unique flavors come from the stone deck ovens, Grant says.
Grant says he purchased one of the new store’s ovens for $5,000 and relocated another used oven from the original store, where he made a $20,000 upgrade in 2018.
Grant’s pizza-making experience comes from his time at Springfield’s New York Pizzeria. It closed in the early 2000s but spurred his love for the pizza style. Grant says the previous owners, who were from Queens, New York, gave him tips on how to make the pizzas authentic to the Big Apple – a place he admits he’s never visited.
But he’s created dough and sauce recipes that emulate the tastes originated on the East Coast.
“People say it reminds them of the old New York pizza because of the flavors. It reminds a lot of people of Ray’s,” he says, referring to the classic pizzeria in New York City. “There’s a lot of pizza in Springfield … but there’s not really New York-style competition.”
Two New York-style pizza shops have closed in as many years. Jax and Gabe’s Pizzeria shuttered in December 2019 on East Republic Road, and New York Style Pizzeria closed its doors a year prior downtown, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
At The Big Slice, customers can order a whole pie for $15-$24 or grab a slice for $2.75-$3.75.
The most popular pizzas are cheese, chicken-bacon ranch and a meat pizza dubbed The Mongo. The restaurant also offers gluten-free and cauliflower crusts, as well as wings, garlic knots, stromboli, mozzarella sticks, ravioli, calzones, salads and take-home pizza dough.
On any given day, the Sunshine Street store will prepare over 150 pizzas – from the slices sold and the pies ordered. Grant says the store has a 55% dine-in rate, with 15% of orders calling for deliveries and the remainder carry-out.
Richard Johnson, a professor at Missouri State University, has eaten lunch at The Big Slice five days a week for the last year and a half.
“I drive up at the same time every day, and they put my slice in the oven before I get out of the car,” Johnson says. His $5 order is a slice of The Mongo and a soda.
“I’ve had all kinds of pizza my whole life. This is one of my favorites,” he says, noting he also takes his family for lunch on Sundays after church about three times a month.
Grant says he’s planning to spend the majority of his time at the Kansas Expressway store to help get it off the ground.
He’s also coaching Kennedy to become the franchisee of the business, he says.
“This is my test to see how well I am at teaching,” Grant says with a laugh. “I want to franchise in the next five years or so.”
Being a restaurateur is new territory for Kennedy, who’s worked on the road for 20 years.
“I was looking for a way to come home, and the opportunity came up,” he says. “I’ve done construction my whole life … so there’s a big learning curve.”
Kennedy says the first weekend in the new store produced consistent traffic from open to close, noting the only announcement of the store opening was made on Facebook. The first three days brought in $6,000 in sales, Grant says, while the original store generated $12,000 over the same weekend.
Kennedy says he’s beginning to implement delivery services in a 3.5-mile radius of the new store. For the next franchise, Grant is targeting the Republic market.
“When we started, I knew it was either going to be really busy or really slow, and it just went crazy,” Grant says. “This place has grown a lot more than I ever imagined.”
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