This past weekend thousands of people descended upon the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds to attend the Cleveland Pizza Fest, a reprisal of the popular but discontinued event titled Cleveland Bake-Off. One of the surprise hits of the weekend turned out to be an unknown player called Pizza (216), who earned second place in the rankings despite the fact that they lost nearly a day of voting.
That’s a good omen for partners Johnny Lis and Brad Wiescinski, who will be unveiling their brick-and-mortar pizza shop of the same name this coming fall. Pizza (216) will open in the Old Arcade, in a storefront space across from the Corner Alley. Both have left other careers to pursue their dreams of running their own food business.
“Anyone who knows me or my partner Brad will tell you that we have always wanted to do something in the restaurant world… or professional golf,” Lis says. “But seeing as we can’t chip or putt, that option went out the window pretty quick.”
Lis enrolled in pizza school (yes, that’s a thing) in New York City, where he learned the ins and outs of pizza making from the pros at Goodfella’s Brick Oven Pizza in Staten Island, the guys who almost yearly take top honors at the World Pizza Championships. Meanwhile Wiescinski, “the numbers guy,” got to work on the business plan and financials.
When Pizza (216) opens in late fall, it will specialize in New York-style thin-crust pizzas cooked in a 700-plus degree brick oven. While customers can come in and order a pie topped with any combination they’d like, the shop’s wheelhouse is specialty pies like the ones they were dishing up at the Pizza Fest.
“People were amazed by our specialty pizzas,” explains Lis. “The feedback was tremendous. Many of them said they never tasted pizza like this in Cleveland.”