During the eight years that Samit Varma spent on a nuclear submarine, he had one thing on his mind: pizza. Now, seated at a table in his very own pizza restaurant, the Marshall graduate still marvels about being able to put his dream in action and start a create-your-own-pizza business.
Growing up, some of Varma’s favorite memories were in his mother’s kitchen, creating his own pizzas.
“At my parent’s house, we would make these crusts, and my brother and sister and I would make our own pizzas. I have always thought that there should be a restaurant concept that does this,” Varma said.
After going to the Naval Academy to study mechanical engineering, Varma was sure that his pizza-making days were over. As the years went on, though, he realized he still missed the days spent cooking with his siblings in his mother’s kitchen.
Varma decided to go back to school and received his master’s in business administration from USC’s Marshall School of Business. He spent time at a software startup and a venture capital firm. It was then he decided that he was ready to finally bring the experiences of his mom’s kitchen to life. But to do this, he realized he would need help.
“I didn’t have any restaurant experience, so I needed to find someone amazing that did,” Varma said.
That’s where Ron Biskin came in. A former president of Wolfgang Puck, Biskin had 25 years of restaurant business experience under his belt. With a partnership established, the two set out for pizza glory.
What makes The Pizza Studio unique is its concept of food design. Varma recognized that customers like nothing more than to eat their own custom creations. The huge variety and unlimited options ensure that anyone can find a combination that suits them, so making a bad pizza is simply impossible.
Upon entering, customers can select one of four crust types: traditional, whole grain and flax, rosemary herb or gluten-free. The crust, which Varma said took eight months of testing to develop, is pressed before being garnished with a choice of tomato, basil pesto, olive oil or tangy BBQ sauce.
For $7.99, each pizza is loaded with an unlimited amount of toppings, which include four different cheeses, nine meats and countless vegetables. The mozzarella is block-shredded in-house, and the meats are sliced as they arrive from a deli that’s had its doors open for 75 years.
Varma says he takes no shortcuts with his pizza.
“We really focused on the product. We wanted to make the pizza fantastic,” he said.
The Pizza Studio also offers special “Starving Artists” options for just $5.99 including Margherita, pepperoni, Veggie Lovers or white pizza.
The innovation at The Pizza Studio doesn’t stop with the ingredients, though. The double-convection-style oven, which Varma had custom-designed for the restaurant, cooks the pizza faster than customers can pay, fill up their soda and sit down.
“You literally go from raw dough to pizza on your table in four minutes,” Varma said.
Despite its emphasis on, well, pizza, The Pizza Studio is about more than just dough. The custom-made decorations, local artwork for sale on the walls and the modern design create a relaxed, friendly environment for customers.
Varma said the culture he found working in the submarine inspired him to go that extra distance with his restaurant.
“In the submarine force, what I tried to create on my ship was a really strong culture,” he said. “I’m rebuilding that culture here by emphasizing pride of ownership and exceeding expectations.”
Varma said he was also inspired by the Trojan Family. He knew he wanted to open his first shop right next to USC and has already hired several Trojan staff members.
“I’ve always been connected to the Trojan community and the business school,” Varma said. “We believe that being close to the university has a lot of advantages for us.”
Varma said that he hopes The Pizza Studio will eventually become a household name.
“We believe pizza is one of the most popular food groups in the country and that this opportunity doesn’t limit itself to any particular area,” he said.
Varma clearly has a hard time containing his excitement. When asked about his goals for the future, he smiled triumphantly.
“I’m a company builder, and that’s what we will do,” Varma said.
The Pizza Studio is located at South Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard and is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Visit them online at mypizzastudio.com.