The afternoon lunch rush is all but over. The line staff at Pionic Pizza are cleaning up, refilling and restocking the lowboy coolers and cold pass, and the host is running the till while changing drawers for the night crew as a few patrons linger over fresh made cannoli, generous bowls of garden salads or a frosty pint of craft beer.
In the middle of all of this stands a tall 25-year-old guy with curly blonde hair, wearing a flour dusted black work shirt who also happens to be brandishing a big smile on his face. This would be businesses proprietor Scott Sinclair, who opened Pionic just over two years ago and is beaming about the success he has created. In a stretch of restaurants on Campbell Avenue that boasts a half dozen other concepts that serve up pizza, all within a few blocks of one another, he is calm about it all and even embraces the other "competition".
"What we do here at Pionic is totally different from what the other pizza places are doing," Scott says. "They all put out amazing products, but here you can get a freshly made pizza of your choice in under two minutes. My grandfather knows a guy that builds industrial ovens and he custom built ours which is always running at 800 degrees and can fit up to 35 pizzas at once. We want to be that go-to place in Tucson when you need a tasty meal but don't have a lot of time on your hands."
In fact, it was Scott's grandfather who helped get Pionic off the ground. Owning a company that made temporary tattoos, he instilled in Scott business sense along with some initial capital and even the business' name.
"'Pionic' actually came from 'bionic', like the 'The Bionic Man' which was my grandfather's favorite TV show. It sort of describes what we do around here," he says.
First to answer a question Scott gets all the time: No, Pionic is not a chain. Yet. Built from the ground up from an former dry cleaner's warehouse that used to be a (rumored) mob-run store front that sold fur coats (fur coats in Tucson? C'mon ...) years ago, Scott says he is not against opening up other Pionic Pizzas here in Tucson and possibly beyond.
"That's actually kind of the idea," Scott says. "We would like to expand but right now we are happy where we are and, honestly, we are still learning."
Scott admits that when they first opened, Pionic and everyone involved was a bit wobbly. He was new to the restaurant business, just barely in his 20s and learned quickly by making mistakes along with what was working inside a fast paced arena among a very competitive market. Now it seems he and his crew have hit a stride as the food they produce at breakneck speeds has vastly improved and has grown into a delicious enterprise.
"Everything we serve here is handmade and fresh from local farms," says Scott as he assembles their prized Elysian Fields pizza that features house crafted pesto, a creamy white sauce, whole milk mozzarella, ricotta, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers then completed with peppery arugula. "For 10 bucks you can get unlimited toppings on a pizza, which is crazy. We price point that way so you can get quality without having you go broke. Then you can come back and try something new, which we want you to do. Our menu might seem limited but honestly the sky is the limit!"
You already heard about the Elysian Fields creation, but Pionic also has another called the Hot Wing which comprises tart gorgonzola cheese, house spicy sauce, red onions, a bell pepper mix and their tangy Buffalo chicken. Or get the Bear Down, a "red and blue" pizza, using blue cheese and pepperoni, which is the perfect accompaniment for the next Wildcats game. Outside of the six house inspired pizza options, you also have a slew of toppings, sauces and cheeses to choose from to make your own doughy plat du jour. They'll even put pasta on your pizza if you want ... if you are into that sort of thing. No really, Pionic serves up penne pasta with all of the pizza ingredients and apparently pasta pizza is a big ticket item for them. Although with so many savory selections going on you will need, and want, to save room for their not-really-on-the-menu-yet apple pie pizza dessert. A sweet brainchild from a line cook, it is a flaky, fruity and gooey end to time well spent in a restaurant where things move pretty quickly.
"You know what's funny," asks Scott with a laugh. "I just found out my grandfather used to own a pizza parlor way back when. That is so weird. So, officially, I am third generation pizza restaurant owner. I had no idea! That makes my pizza obsession a bit clearer now."