PIZZA WARS: 2016 brought waves of restaurant openings; more on the way

6:00 a.m. Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 What To Know

Pizza restaurants have battled for their slice of the Dayton-area market for several years, but 2016 brought what could be described as an all-out pizza war to the Miami Valley.

Let’s take a look at what has happened in the local pizza market in 2016 — and what’s on the horizon. Suffice to say local pizza enthusiasts will not be lacking in choices in 2017.

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The Dayton region’s pizza market has long been dominated by venerable hometown chains such as Cassano’s Pizza King and Marion’s Piazza; by national chains such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s; and by the dozens of smaller chains and single-store independents that set up shop in the Miami Valley.

In recent years, however, other smaller, mostly regional chains have invaded those established players’ turf. LaRosa’s, Godfather’s, Dewey’s and Jet’s pizza chains, among others, have elbowed their way into the region’s market, and appear to have found a receptive, hungry audience.

RELATED: Regional chains move into Dayton market seeking their slice of the pie (2014)

So the local pizza scene MUST be saturated, right? Apparently not — because 2016 brought another surge in new pizza restaurants and plans for many more. Most of the activity came from a sub-section of the pizza market that is relatively new to the Dayton region: fast-casual pizza restaurants. At these eateries, customers order a custom-made pizza in a cafeteria-style assembly line and watch as their custom pies are fast-baked.

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That fast-casual segment of the market is as hot as the ovens that flash-cook the pizzas. Consider:

• The rapidly expanding Rapid Fired Pizza — a Kettering-based chain that just celebrated its first birthday a couple of months ago — is poised to open a flagship restaurant in Kettering, and is hiring for new locations in Oxford and Greenville. It already operates locations in Fairborn, Sugarcreek Twp., Huber Heights, Springfield, Lima, and Montgomery. Many more are in the works, and plans call for having as many as 25 locations open by mid-2017, Rapid Fired Pizza’s founders say.

RELATED: New Rapid Fired Pizza in the works in Kettering

• The Dayton area’s first MOD Pizza restaurant is about two months away from opening in Englewood, a spokesman told this news outlet earlier this month. And a second local MOD restaurant is already in the works at the Cornerstone of Centerville development. The chain is based in Seattle.

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• Another rapidly expanding casual chain, Cleveland-based PizzaFire, opened its first Dayton-area restaurant in Kettering in August. The chain’s director of business development said PizzaFire would like to add three or four more restaurants in the Dayton area, although no timetable has been set.

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• Charlotte, N.C.-based Brixx Wood Fired Pizza recently opened a restaurant at Governor’s Pointe in Deerfield Twp., just north of Interstate 71’s Mason-Montgomery Road exit, and is looking to expand in southwest Ohio. Two other fast-casual pizza chains, Blaze Pizza and Pizzeria Locale, also have opened restaurants in the Mason area, and they too say they’re looking to expand their southwest Ohio footprint.

RELATED: Brixx Wood Fired Pizza open in Deerfield Twp.

Amidst all this expansion, there have been very few closings among established pizza shops. One exception occurred in late October, when Cincinnati-based LaRosa’s shut down a company-owned restaurant in Huber Heights. The location had been in business for eight years but endured “consistently low sales,” LaRosa’s officials said. Four other Dayton-area LaRosa’s — in Englewood, Beavercreek, Kettering and Centerville areas — remain open and operating.

Other pizza chains that do not yet have a foothold in the Dayton area don’t seem to be deterred by the explosion in competition. At least three pizza chains — California-based Pieology, Wisconsin-based Toppers Pizza, and most recently, Colorado-based Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom — have told this news outlet they’re seeking franchisees or otherwise looking to enter the Dayton-area pizza market.

For Miami Valley pizza lovers, there may be no better time to be alive.

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