Rize Artisan Pizza to open in Poncey-Highland in November

The fast-casual pizza shop, led by former Caesars Entertainment CEO John Smith, wants to inspire customers to “craft their best life”
ATL BLT pizza

Photograph courtesy of Rize Artisan Pizza

Rize CEO John Smith

Photograph courtesy of Rize Artisan Pizza

A casual spot for pizza, pasta, and salads, Rize Artisan Pizza is scheduled to open the second week in November at 675 North Highland Ave., with a second Sandy Springs location to follow in December. Led by CEO John Smith (formerly of Caesars Entertainment) and director of culinary operations Eddie Russell (of Argosy and the Four Coursemen pop-up), Rize is focused on a mission of “bringing people together around the joy of food.”

It promises bold, unexpected flavors and crispy crusts, and offers specialty pizzas in everything from classic margherita and Bianca to ATL BLT, Delphi (a Greek-inspired pie with artichoke, olives, and feta), and Asian BBQ Chicken. Non-pizza options include a superfood salad, Asian noodle salad, flatbread sandwiches, hummus, and more.

Despite the fact that Rize is a brand new concept, Smith is confident it will be a hit—he’s already planning to open a third location in Decatur in April 2017. We spoke with Smith about Rize and his plans for metro Atlanta.

What makes the “Rize Nation” so special?
If you know pizza, you know it’s all about the crust. That’s what makes our pizza so special. I’ve lived in Spain, Italy, and 15 states in the U.S. I’ve had pizza all over. I’ve learned what great pizza is. We ferment our dough for 48 hours. It’s airy, light, and crispy. We never hand-toss our dough. That tells you the dough is tough and high in protein. We bake it in a stone hearth oven. We bake it versus searing it. The Neapolitan guys cook their pizza in 70 seconds. We believe perfection takes time. We bake it for 3 minutes and 30 seconds to get that golden crust and finish with olive oil.

So what kind of pizza do you offer?
We are not Neapolitan. For us, pizza shouldn’t be wet. Everything shouldn’t fall off. You should be able to hold it by the crust and it stands up. We call it Global American fare. There are a lot of cultures in the U.S. that retain their own flavors. We like to borrow some of these cool global flavors to create new dishes. An example is our lavash [unleavened flatbread]. It’s is traditional from Romania. It’s a medium to eat our hummus and used instead of croutons in our salad. We have bold, global flavors. We have an Asian barbecue pizza with Korean barbecue sauce and sesame seeds that’s insane. The Waverly is out of this world—with fig jam and aged balsamic. We’re not an Italian concept. Our pizza is one size: 12 inches for two people. We have a build-your-own option, too.

Asian noodle salad

Photograph courtesy of Rize Artisan Pizza

Tell me about the beverage offerings.
There’s no bar in the traditional sense. We have a brick beer wall with eight taps coming out of it: Brooklyn Lager, Harpoon, Emergency Drinking Beer, Terrapin IPA, plus a few cans and bottles. We have six wines, and a red wine sangria with oranges, blueberries, strawberries, and a white one with lemon and ginger. I grew up in South of Spain. There, when you got to a restaurant, sangria was on the table the way water is here. Pizza is the ultimate communal food, and sangria is the ultimate communal beverage.

What will Rize look and feel like?
We call it a soft industrial décor with muted tones, stained concrete floor, wooden tables, and trusses in ceiling. Everything is very open, including the kitchen. There’s not a lot of boundary between us and the guest.

How do you intend to “inspire people to craft their best life?” How does pizza help accomplish this?
It starts with our ethos. The sharing of food is part of the human story. With food we make friends, court lovers, count blessings, and celebrate life’s moments. When people choose to dine out, they’re there for a life moment. They are trusting you to get it right and not blow their moment. We have to make sure everything is right, from the team members’ attitude to timing to getting the order right. To do that, you’ve got to have people who care. By creating those moments, we are freeing you to be you.

I’ve heard you want to change the landscape of fast-casual dining. How do you plan to do that?
We take a fine dining perspective and marry that with a casual atmosphere, great beer, wine. and sangria. People are blown away at our prices. We designed the kitchen to be highly efficient. We think a lot about how we present our food.

When you walk in [to Rize], people approach you and give you a menu tour. You’ll order right there in the lobby. When you sit down and put your puck on the table, RFID technology lets the kitchen know to fire up your food. Everything on menu is made fresh but has a pickup time of no more than 3 minutes and 30 seconds. All your flavor and quality are baked into the prep. When you’re done, you can pay via app using beacon technology.

Hummus plate

Photograph courtesy of Rize Artisan Pizza

How did working at casinos influence how you run a pizza place?
I spent a lot of time in retail; I’ve run consumer services businesses, casinos, and restaurants. The theme is they are all service businesses. The product is the people. If you want sustainable profits, you have to have guests who are extremely loyal. To have that, they have to be satisfied. You must have people who work for you who are loyal. They build relationships with your guests and shape your culture. You have to make sure they are satisfied with competitive pay and the right work environment. You have to be clear about the culture you’re hiring for. I build high-performing teams and outstanding culture. As for the pizza part, I just love pizza and think I should share great pizza with everyone. Who doesn’t love great pizza?

Check out the full menu below (tap to enlarge)