Local pizza restaurant closes; are more headed that direction?

LaRosa's has shut down its pizza restaurant in Huber Heights because of lack of business, at a time when the Dayton-area pizza market has never been more competitive.

The company-owned store at 7375 Old Troy Pike shut down after the close of business Sunday after experiencing “consistently low sales,” LaRosa’s officials said in a release. The restaurant had been in business for eight years. Four other Dayton-area locations of the Cincinnati-based pizza chain — in Englewood, Beavercreek, Kettering and Centerville areas — remain open and operating.

“We’re disappointed to see our Huber Heights pizzeria close,” Michael LaRosa, CEO of LaRosa’s, Inc., said in a news release. “But we believe it’s time to focus our efforts on other Dayton area locations. We’d like to thank those guests who supported us over most of the last decade and, especially, our team members for their dedication over the years.”

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All of the 15 or so team members have been offered positions at other LaRosa’s locations, the pizza chain’s officials said.

The closing comes amid a surge in competition that could threaten existing Dayton-area pizza shops from an entirely new segment of “fast-casual” pizza restaurants that didn’t exist in the Dayton area until about a year ago. Kettering-based Rapid Fired Pizza has opened five Dayton-area locations since September 2015 and has four more in the works, plus dozens more in various stages of negotiation or development across southwest and west-central Ohio. Cleveland-based PizzaFire has opened its first location on Far Hills Drive in Kettering. And Seattle-based MOD Pizza has restaurants in the works in Englewood and at the Cornerstone of Centerville development.

All of those pizza chains share a build-your-own service concept that allows diners to customize their toppings and watch their pies baked in a blazing-hot oven in three minutes or less.

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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, Little Caesar’s and Papa John’s; and by the dozens of smaller chains and single-store independents that call the Miami Valley home. In recent years, however, other smaller, mostly regional chains have invaded those established market players’ turf. LaRosa’s — which operates 65 pizzerias in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee — was one of those regional chains, along with Godfather’s, Dewey’s and Jet’s, among others.

Even grocery stores have grabbed a slice of the pie: two Dorothy Lane Market grocery stores now cook up specialty Naples-style pizzas that utilize a fast-bake concept — but not the same assembly-line service line — as fast-casual pizza shops.

And an independent pizza restaurant that also focuses on Naples-style pizzas, Old Scratch Pizza, opened just last month just south of downtown Dayton.

That surge of openings has not forced any wholesale closings among existing pizza restaurants, which will likely make the Huber Heights LaRosa’s closing a subject of scrutiny and speculation among local pizza-shop managers and owners.

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