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California-based Project Pie pizza enters Dallas with a bang

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Project Pie pizza
Project Pie's pizzas have a crust that's slightly thinner and crispier than a Neapolitan pizza. Photo courtesy of Project Pie
Project Pie pizza
Project Pie's pizza lineup includes dessert pies such as this one with banana and Nutella. Photo courtesy of Project Pie
Project Pie pizza
Project Pie pizza

Operating on the thesis that there is no such thing as too much pizza, Dallas will be home to the first Texas branch of an innovative fast-casual pizza concept called Project Pie.

Headquartered in Carlsbad, California, Project Pie is one of a handful of new startups dubbed "the Chipotle of pizza," wherein diners go through a Chipotle-style line and specify toppings. Pizzas cook in three minutes or less in an 800-degree oven fired by gas.

This model of faster-than-fast-food pizza but with gourmet ambitions has become one of the hottest categories, with players such as Pie Five, Blaze Fast Fire'd Pizza, Uncle Maddio's, Live Basil Pizza, The Pizza Studio, Tulsa-based Top That! Pizza, and the Los Angeles-based pacesetter, 800 Degrees Pizza. There's even a locally-grown entry called Pizza Snob that opened in January 2014 near TCU in Fort Worth.

Project Pie was founded by pizza guru James Markham, who's created a number of pizza concepts, including Knockout and Pieology. Markham confirms that he's already signed two leases in Dallas: Preston Center and Lower Greenville.

"We've signed a lease next to HG Sply Co., two doors over, and we also signed a space in Preston Center, next to Hopdoddy," he says. "We'll be starting construction next week."

Where Pie Five serves a standard thin-crust pizza, Project Pie aspires to do Neapolitan-style pizza à la Dallas' own Cane Rosso. But the crust is slightly crisper than a soft Neapolitan-style pie.

Project Pie's menu has nine pre-designed pizza options, all priced at $7.50, along with a couple of salads, milkshakes and desserts. The chain currently has six branches, with five on the West Coast and one in Chicago.

The chain is eyeing national expansion with branches slated for Indianapolis, New York and Northern California. But Markham has special appreciation for Dallas' growing restaurant scene.

"The whole Dallas food scene is badass," he says. "People outside of Dallas think that the city is all about about steaks and barbecue. But Dallas has a really cool food scene. A lot of cities are stuck and mired with mediocre chain restaurants. Dallas has more and more cool, indie homegrown stuff."

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