I spoke with two guys about pizza this week. One was James “Jammer” Orintas, one of the owners of Theo’s Neighborhood Pizza, located on Canal, right near the intersection with Carrollton. The other was Dennis Scheuermann, the owner of Wit’s Inn, which is on the corner of Carrollton and Iberville. Both had great insights into the neighborhood and the restaurant business. Orintas, along with his partners, is from Arkansas. Scheuermann grew up in the 9th ward and has deep roots in New Orleans. This contrast alone suggests that they both personify New Orleans at this point.
Both restaurants sell pizza. I am pretty sure that their pizza pies are made in substantially different styles (I’ve eaten Theo’s pizza many times, but I have not yet tried Wit’s Inn pizza…I’ll try to make up for that soon). Theo’s is a thin crust pizza that is often referred to as “St. Louis Style.” I have heard that Wit’s Inn pizza has a thicker, chewier kind of crust. They both seem to have a lot of fans (I am not going to try any restaurant criticism here, so you’ll have to do your own research if you want to decide which one you like better). Theo’s has only been in the neighborhood since mid-2009 (they have another location on Magazine Street), while Wit’s Inn has been around much longer.
Interestingly, they do not see themselves as really competing with each other. Theo’s serves beer and wine, but is primarily, as Jammer told me, a destination for families with kids who want an affordable and relaxing night out (indeed, I can verify that the place works for that – I’ve been with my kids, other people’s kids, hordes of kids…). Wit’s Inn has a full bar and a more diverse menu (they also do brunch on Sundays), pool tables and various electronic games-of-chance that only adults may use. Indeed, you must be 21 to enter Wit’s Inn. Wit’s Inn seems to be a mixture of sports bar and neighborhood hangout, with the addition of a full kitchen and professional chef.
All of which seems like a happy situation, with the potential for both businesses to thrive. Except that they are not the only pizza purveyors in our restaurant row. Venezia, just across Carrollton from Wit’s Inn, is famous for its pizza. Just up the street, across the Great Divide, there are outlets for Papa John’s and Domino’s. If you are willing to travel slightly out of our research area, down to Banks street, you will find the Crescent City Pie and Sausage Company and Lazaro’s Pizza, which is nearly a secret pizza purveyor as far as I can tell. (Just to confuse matters, the owners of Juan’s Flying Burrito, which is around the corner from Theo’s, also own Slice, another local pizzeria, but they do not have a location in the neighborhood.) New Orleans is not a town known for pizza. And yet, you might think we have more pizza places than po’boy shops.
And now, the Italian Pie folks are opening a new store at 125 N. Carrollton, on the same block as Fiesta Latina, Doson Noodle House and Wit’s Inn. Italian Pie is a local chain with a fairly large number of stores across the metropolitan area. I have no idea what the new place will look like, but I do know that their pizza is popular with many people in New Orleans.
Which raises a question: is it possible to have too much pizza in a neighborhood? The immediate issue is one of competition and survival. Can all of these places thrive with so many different pizza options? There are subsidiary issues, like parking, that come to mind. Perhaps the different kinds of pizza make these all substantially different kinds of restaurants. Jammer pointed out that one of the things that makes the neighborhood attractive is the wide range of affordable dining choices, from various types of pizza, to different kinds of Latin American food, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. Do people see the pizza places as too much of the same thing or do they differentiate between them, so that each draws on their own clientele? Does the collection of affordable restaurants bring in business for everyone?
What kind of mix of businesses, or just restaurants—succeed in neighborhoods? How do urban planners and policy makers think about this? There is some interesting stuff written about this—in urban planning literature, as well as in hotel, restaurant and tourism business literature (and if you have a favorite article or book to recommend, let me know!)—but take a look at this meditation on business diversity in Washington DC (part 2 is here). It raises an interesting set of issues about restaurant and business clusters that are worth thinking about. What has your experience been, in our restaurant row or somewhere else where restaurants congregate? Is there a pizza tipping point? Or even a point at which a neighborhood has too many restaurants? Or maybe not enough? And would that point be different in New Orleans, where people love eating in restaurants, than in a different city, where food is less central to the way of life?