California-based chain serves pizzas with personality
Irmo, SC (James Bowers) Perennially popular pizza is a $20 billion industry in the United States. Soon, residents of Lexington County will have a new place to get a yeasty, highly customizable pie when Persona Pizzeria opens its second Midlands location near Columbiana Mall.
Persona is currently being constructed in the sprawling Columbiana Station retail complex on Bower Parkway near Harbison Boulevard. General manager Robert Leavitt hopes a grand opening will occur near the beginning of April. The new location will occupy a small space next to Jewelry Warehouse at the end of the building.
The chain already operates in downtown Columbia on Main Street. That store is the first Persona Pizzeria location to be owned by a franchisee instead of the parent company itself.
Many people already know that another newer chain, Blaze Pizza, has an outlet directly across the street from Persona’s spot in the Academy Sports-anchored shopping plaza, and may wonder why another pizza stop would choose to open shop just a few hundred feet away. The answer, says Leavitt, lies in quality.
Persona Pizzeria was founded by world renowned pizza chef Glenn Cybulski, who learned the art of pizza in the dish’s birthplace, Naples, Italy. Cybulski has racked up 112 awards for his culinary excellence. “Glenn has forgotten more about pizza than most of us will ever know,” joked Leavitt.
Persona’s particular style of pie falls into a subcategory called Neapolitan pizza. It is known for its thin crust and exclusive use of San Marzano tomatoes.
The expertly crafted and rigorously tested recipes depend on the choicest ingredients, which are all prepared onsite, even the sauce and cheese. Dough is made fresh using Caputo “00” flour, imported directly from Italy.
Customers can choose a “base” which is usually a 12-inch crust, although at the Harbison location you can also enjoy a small. medium, or large. Then you begin by selecting your favorite starter layer, one of four sauces; Bianca, Marinara, Margherita, or Pesto. Toppings include pizza mainstays such as sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, mushrooms and green peppers, or more exotic selections such as prosciutto and arugula. Adding to the “personality” of each pizza is a choice of cheese. Customers can enjoy or forgo the usual mozzarella in favor of blue cheese or vegan cheese, among other selections.
What pulls it all together is the assembly line style of ordering and building your own pizza. Visitors come to a counter where they can “follow” their pizza through its build, adding their choice of sauce, cheese, and topping selections until their personally designed pie is placed in a state of the art Marra Forni oven. It only takes 90 seconds in the 800-degree oven to cook your pizza to perfection.
Leavitt says that the “price point” for his company’s pies are very reasonable; usually no higher $13 for a 12” pizza. The average cost of their pizzas are about $11 each. This is often less than what Pizza Hut and other more well-known national chains charge for the same size.
Leavitt says that although most customers love the handcrafted gourmet pizza of Persona, a few have been iffy about the taste of a product which is radically different from Little Caesars’ or supermarket frozen offerings like Digiorno’s. “This a product that people aren’t used to; American pizza typically features high crust and thick dough, while Neapolitan style pizza has a thin crust,” Leavitt added.
Despite the reservations of a small number of consumers, there seems to be an upswing in the demand for more true to Italy pizzas in recent years. A number of artisan style chains spearheaded by the likes of Marco’s and California Pizza Kitchen have begun aggressive expansion campaigns.
If the Bower Parkway venture proves successful, more Personas could pop up in the Midlands and beyond. In case Harbison area pizza lovers needed another reason to give Persona a shot, they’ll bring your pizza to you! “We plan to offer delivery within a three-mile radius once we open," said Leavitt. With an easily accessed location and a flavorful, fresh product, Persona Pizzeria is poised for success amid an already crowded Harbison/Irmo restaurant sector.
Once you’ve taken one bite of their pepperoni pizza, with sauce at a crossroads between tangy and sweet, and enjoy their fresh, stretchy, stringy mozzarella that screams "never frozen,” you’ll know one thing; they couldn’t have picked a better name for their restaurant.