Amit Kleinberger, CEO of frozen yogurt chain Menchie’s, plans to debut a new Neapolitan-style, fast-casual pizza concept in Los Angeles next month.
Dubbed MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza — MidiCi is pronounced mee-dee-chee — the first unit is scheduled to open on May 9 in the city’s Sherman Oaks neighborhood.
Kleinberger said MidiCi is designed to fill what he sees as a gap in the growing fast-casual pizza category for a more upscale Neapolitan brand.
Los Angeles is already home to the growing 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza chain, which has seven units and was the first within the fast-casual, build-your-own-pizza category that followed the Neapolitan tradition.
But MidiCi will be different, Kleinberger said. The restaurant will have a design that leans more toward fine dining, and it will offer brunch on weekends, an appetizer menu, and more beer and wine options than what is typically found at other fast-casual pizza concepts.
“We are a true hybrid of fine and casual dining. I don’t even consider us in the category of fast casual,” Kleinberger said.
Like other fast-casual players, however, MidiCi is based on the model of a 12-inch pie, priced between $6 to $8, with additional toppings priced at $1 each.
Pies are baked to order in a wood-fired oven. The dough is made from scratch in house in the Neapolitan tradition using double-zero flour imported from Italy, and is hand-stretched in front of guests. No ingredients are genetically modified, which Kleinberger said is very important to consumers today.
In addition to pizza, the menu includes antipasti and cheese plates, salads and desserts like classic sorbet and gelato, along with a pizza topped with Nutella and fresh fruit.
The menu was developed by executive chef and director of culinary research and development Peppe Miele, a Naples-born chef who opened the now-closed, Neapolitan-style Antica Pizzeria in Los Angeles. He is also president of the American delegation of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which offers a certification for meeting Neapolitan pizza standards.
Also on the culinary team is senior chef and assistant director of culinary research and development Mario Vollera, an Italian chef known most recently for his work at the pizza bar Southend in Venice, Calif., and counseling chef Roberto Caporuscio, the U.S. president of the Associazone Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, which teaches the Neapolitan art of pizza making.
MidiCi’s design was developed by Sam Marshall, who is known for his work at the Los Angeles-area restaurants Gjelina and Republique
The restaurant features a sit-down bar with 13 seats, where guests can choose from a selection of beers, wine and espresso made manually, “as it would be in Italy,” Kleinberger said. A 21-foot olive tree is the centerpiece of the room. The goal is to create more of a dining experience, Kleinberger said.
“The mission of the brand is we bring friends together,” he said. “Our tagline is, ‘Because people are the best thing that can happen to anyone.’”
Today’s diner is more demanding, he noted.
“The food world is going through a shift. People are significantly more knowledgeable about what they eat, and they want and demand better food. And they want it to be accessible, not just once a year,” Kleinberger said. “They’re looking for an experience, something different.”
The Sherman Oaks restaurant will be roughly 4,000 square feet, but Kleinberger said future restaurants will range between 3,000 square feet and 4,200 square feet.
Kleinberger is founder and CEO of MidiCi, which will be franchised by MidiCi Group LLC, also based in Menchie’s base of Encino, Calif. The company has already signed agreements with franchisees to bring the pizza concept to Michigan, Florida, Texas and other parts of California.
Though the first restaurant hasn’t yet opened, Kleinberger said franchise operators were eager to jump in.
“I have 500 units open with Menchie’s, and we’re the largest frozen yogurt franchise. We understand how to build great brands,” he said. “Our goal is to be the largest Neapolitan pizza player in the country.”