Assembly Line Pie

Yet another chain pizza joint comes to Tucson.

The folks at the Pizza Factory probably don't know how unfortunately appropriate that name is.

The image of a factory brings to mind assembly lines and mass production--not qualities one wants in a restaurant. I want uniquely delicious, high-quality food. And while a few select chains have managed to develop menus featuring such offerings, the Pizza Factory does not appear to be one of them.

Tucson's first Pizza Factory opened about a month ago on the far eastside, joining about 115 other stores, mostly in the Western part of the country, although there are interestingly four Pizza Factories in China, too.

We usually give restaurants at least two to three months before we review them. But seeing as this is a chain, meaning the menu is already tried and, one would hope, true, and seeing as the Pizza Factory has been touting its presence, we made an exception. The first disturbing sign came when I saw the sign off Broadway Boulevard near Houghton Road touting the fact that, one, the Pizza Factory was open, and two, that franchise opportunities are available.

This ended up being a theme that carried over throughout my Pizza Factory experiences. The menu advertises the franchising opportunities. So does the pizza box. Even the company's Web site hawks franchises over pizza. And in the restaurant, a dispenser on the wall on the way to the video games offers pamphlets strictly on the franchising possibilities.

The pamphlet is quite informative. It talks about how much an investment in a franchise costs ($69,200 to $261,900, depending on the size of the "unit," aka restaurant) and the 10-step process one must go through before a franchise opens. It also features such rah-rah statements as: "Pizza Factory pizza receives praise from customers for being the best they've tasted! Our signature dough and sauce helps to create pizza that generates repeat business."

OK. Is this true? While the Pizza Factory folks must be doing something right to have a triple-digit number of locations, the taste of the food didn't do anything for me.

I visited the Pizza Factory on a recent Monday night. The place was busy, with most of the patrons watching a preseason NFL game on a TV in the corner. A few kids played the video games, with several folks dining in the outside eating area (which is really nice except that there is no view of anything but the backside of a shopping center).

I ordered a 12-inch medium Factory Special pizza ($14.95; prices range from $5.95 for an 8-inch mini to $20.95 for a 20-inch X-Large). It comes with cheese, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, onions, bacon and bell peppers, with anchovies available on request. I got mine sans bell peppers and anchovies, but with extra sauce. The people working there were quite polite, and one young man stood there tossing pizza dough--something that's a Pizza Factory signature (motto: "We Toss 'em, They're awesome"). I was told my pie would be ready in 20-25 minutes. Sure enough, it was; I got it and took it home.

The pizza smelled amazing in the car, boosting my hopes. It also looked great, with an appropriate number of fresh-looking toppings. The crust was a nice golden brown, and I could tell they added extra sauce as requested. But how was that make-our-break sauce, much touted in the franchising pamphlet?

Bland. Very bland.

I made a point of tasting the sauce from several different parts of the pizza to make sure I wasn't missing something. In every spot, the sauce tasted like tomato sauce with very little doctoring. It had no bite. I could taste almost no spices whatsoever--I could get a hint of oregano, maybe, if I used my imagination. And as a result, the pizza was blah--better than some chains, worse than more and nowhere near the best pizza I have ever tasted. It isn't even the best pizza at that intersection.

I returned a couple days later to try some other Pizza Factory menu offerings; a salad bar (one trip for $2.95 or $4.25, depending on the size of the bowl), soup, several pastas, sandwiches and calzones are on the menu along with beverages including beer and wine, and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies for dessert. They also offer lunch specials including pizza by the slice (pepperoni or cheese with a 20-ounce soda for $2.50).

I ordered a "freshly baked lasagna with meat sauce" ($6.95) and an order of chicken wings, half hot and spicy and half honey barbecue ($5.95 for 10). Like the pizza, the lasagna featured what seemed to be high-quality ingredients, but one of the ingredients wasn't taste. The sauce--the same in the pizza, perhaps?--was almost tasteless, as was the accompanying chunky ground beef.

The wings were by far the tastiest of all the foods from the Pizza Factory I tasted, but they were still nowhere near overflowing with flavor. The taste of honey dominated the honey barbecue wings, and while the hot and spicy wings had a noticeable peppery flavor, they were nowhere near spicy hot.

Both meals left my taste buds unsatisfied. I can't recommend the Pizza Factory despite its polite employees and its seemingly fresh ingredients. But I can recommend a typically mediocre pizza joint franchising opportunity, that is if you're in the market for such a thing.

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