Restaurants to take slice of pizza market

Wheat State opens along 23rd Street, CiCi's aims to follow

With Kansas University students as a key ingredient, two new pizza shops have targeted the Lawrence market.

Wheat State Pizza recently opened its doors in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets, while the national franchise CiCi's Pizza has plans to open in late September in the Southwest Plaza Shopping Center at 23rd and Iowa streets.

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Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

From left are Chris Soetaert, general manager of Wheat State Pizza; Grady Creek, assistant manager; and Ryan Murphy, owner. Murphy has opened the pizza place at 711 W. 23rd St., where they were pictured Tuesday.

Officials with both companies said they expected to be successful, even though the city has approximately 20 different restaurants that serve pizza, according to local telephone listings.

"There are a few of them, but I still think the city needs a pizza shop that really over excels on quality," said Ryan Murphy, owner of Wheat State Pizza.

"I think the bar needs to be raised a little bit. It is not where it should be in Lawrence."

Murphy, a former employee of several Lawrence pizza shops, said the city could handle the large number of pizza parlors because pizza and college go hand in hand.

"There's about 30,000 students at KU, and you can pretty much expect each one of them to order at least one pizza a week," Murphy said. "That supports a lot of pizza places."

CiCi's is hoping it will succeed by filling a niche in the city. The Texas-based chain with more than 480 stores in 26 states offers an all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta, salad and dessert buffet for $3.99.

"The hungry market is who we go after," said Hal Sasko, who will own the Lawrence CiCi's in addition to existing stores in Topeka and Grandview, Mo.

The Lawrence market is more competitive than either of those cities, but Sasko said he was undaunted.

"My philosophy is that if we all do it right, everybody will be eating more pizza, and that's good for everybody," Sasko said. "And not to be arrogant, but I think we're going to succeed very well because of the location we have."

The business has filed a site plan with city officials to locate in the former Sav-On Office Supplies building, 2020 W. 23rd St. City commissioners are tentatively scheduled to approve the site plan at their Aug. 3 meeting.

Wheat State's business will focus on the more traditional pizza market, serving single-topping and specialty pizzas for prices ranging between $7 and $18. Unlike CiCi's, it will offer delivery.

Other pizza shop operators in the city said they would be watching with interest to see whether the community had reached its pizza-saturation point.

"I don't know if we have too many or not, but I would say that it is overwhelmingly competitive," said Chris Crockett, manager of Glory Days Pizza, 4821 W. Sixth St.

There have been some signs that the city's pizza lovers have had their fill. Lawrence Pizza Co. closed its lone location at Sixth Street and Kasold Drive in May, and Pizza Pro, a regional pizza chain, closed its Lawrence store at 23rd and Harper streets less than a year after opening in July 2003.

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