‘Godfather’ of Custom Pizza Opens Local Storefronts

‘Godfather’ of Custom Pizza Opens Local Storefronts
Project Pie will open a number of locations this year, including Preston Center and Asbury Avenue. (Photos courtesy of Project Pie)

The way pizza-preneur James Markham sees it, food is akin to a romantic relationship — that is, it’s best when kept fresh.

It’s a sentiment that can be linked directly to Project Pie, the valedictorian of the dough-tossing chains (MOD, Pieology) Markham has founded in recent years. Like its predecessors, the Project Pie concept involves custom-made pizzas bedazzled with premium ingredients. Unlike the stores that have gone before, however, Project Pie will be opening in Dallas — and opening four times over to boot.

“I’ve got four units I’m doing in Dallas this year. I’m doing Preston Center, Lower Greenville — we just signed a space right at SMU, and we’re doing one in Addison too,” Markham said. Although the storefronts will open back-to-back this fall, thanks to a mix of vintage and industrial furnishings, “all of them are going to look different.”

If you’re planning to dine at the Preston Center location, for example, you’ll spot an 8-foot-long credenza-turned-soda-station that dates back to 1942. When you’re ready to switch things up, pop over to the University Park restaurant — the space on Hillcrest and Asbury, which used to belong to New York Sub, will be outfitted with a completely different lighting, floor, and tile package. Feel like venturing out to Lower Greenville? You’ll be welcomed with open arms and a wide-open bar — this particular Project Pie will feature a rooftop deck that joins with next-door neighbor HG Sply Co., and is the only Dallas location where liquor will be served in addition to beer and wine.

“I’ve been touted as sort of being the guy who started this entire segment — this whole build-your-own, Chipotle-style pizza thing,” said Markham, who has planted pizza joints everywhere from San Diego to Shanghai.

Maybe that’s why he’s not afraid to innovate and try new things. Or talk about his competitors.

“We have a lot of competition out there. In Dallas you’ve got Pie Five,” Markham said. “I would open next door to Pie Five.”

Luckily, in 2012 he was introduced to local real estate mogul Michael Miller, who quickly scouted a few locations for Markham’s Dallas debut that were less likely to result in a pie-in-the-face scenario.

“We knew we wanted to start inside the loop before venturing out to the suburbs,” Miller said. “Preston Center was a no-brainer to capture both the large daytime population that occupies the office buildings in the area, as well as the densely-populated, high-income neighborhoods of Preston Hollow and the Park Cities.”

But there was also the cool factor to take into consideration.

“Frankly, before I came to Dallas I had no idea that your food scene was so cool, which I’m glad about — I think we’re going to fit right in,” Markham said, noting that Project Pie was recently ranked the No. 1 emerging brand on Yelp. “I think people are going to dig it.”

If Project Pie’s pizzas taste as good as they look in photographs, people are likely to dig in, too. Customers can either build their own pizza entirely from scratch, or start with a signature pie as a base and get creative from there. Markham suggests trying out the chain’s newest white pizza, which features not-so-nasty roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto, red onion, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, plus a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil — couture on crust, if you will. Taste buds not feeling quite so adventurous? Go with Miller’s pick: a classic Marguerita accented by tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil.

Or, get funky. The best part of entering into a relationship with Project Pie is that you’ll pay $7.85 no matter how many toppings you select. Now that’s amore.

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