By Charlie Pogacar

The man behind Artichoke Basille’s Pizza and Lions & Tigers & Squares, Fran Garcia could be described as a serial entrepreneur. Artichoke serves up New York-style pizza, while Lions & Tigers & Squares does Detroit-style pies, but both have a simple, stripped-down menu. Garcia prefers it that way—and it’s something he learned by watching his mother, also a restaurateur, do it a different way. 

“My mom had a restaurant with 150 seats,” Garcia told PMQ. “The menu had around 20 appetizers and 30 entrees. It was a huge menu, and that required a lot of work and stress. With a menu like that, somebody can keep you on the phone for a half hour just to order one dinner.” 

That’s why it’s no surprise that Garcia’s latest concept, Panko Pizza, has a straightforward menu with a unique twist: its panko-breadcrumb crust.  Located in Middletown, New Jersey—due south and across the water from Garcia’s native Staten Island—Panko Pizza came to be almost by accident. 

Related: Why a Huge Pizza Menu Only Leads to Headaches

Panko Pizza took over a former Artichoke Basille’s location. Seeking a way to keep up with volume, Garcia tried dipping his dough in olive oil and then panko breadcrumbs. The idea was that the panko would keep the crust insulated from direct heat, which meant Garcia could turn his oven up to 600°F and not worry about burning the crust. It worked like a charm—and added a whole new dimension to the pizza Garcia was serving. So much so that he decided it deserved its own restaurant concept.

Because the panko innovation wasn’t just about efficiency: Garcia quickly found that his proprietary cooking method had other unique benefits. “It makes the pizza amazing,” Garcia said. “It adds this amazing crunch, and it does a lot of other things that we learned as we were developing the system. Things like the way it sits in the box: It doesn’t build the same condensation underneath because the pizza is sitting on the panko.” 

The pizza stays so crispy, Garcia joked, that you might wake up everyone in your house if you go to eat a piece of pizza late at night. “It’s just crunch, crunch, crunch,” Garcia said. 

While the menu at Panko Pizza is still stripped down compared to other pizzerias, it offers more options than Garcia’s other two concepts. It includes appetizers like wings, mozzarella sticks, fried ravioli and garlic breadsticks made with the panko crust. 

Pies start at $9.99 for an 18” panko-crusted pie for pickup, or a $12.99 Sicilian Pie. Specialty pizzas include a Hot Oil Pie that Garcia learned from the owners of the Colony Grill, the pizzeria credited with inventing the Hot Oil Bar Pie, and a Mustard Pie that is a staple of Lions & Tigers & Squares, as well as a nod to PaPa’s Tomato Pies in nearby Robbinsville New Jersey. The menu also features unique pizzas like the Vodka Sicilian Pie and Burnt Anchovy Pie. 

Panko Pizza launched in February after a few months of a soft opening. It’s already booming with business, and Garcia has been contacted about how he’s planning to grow the brand. For now, though, he’s focused on one store at a time. That’s how he has grown his three concepts to date, and that’s how he’ll grow them into the future. 

“I really don’t know,” Garcia said. “It could be one-and-done. It could be 100 stores. Who the heck knows?”

Featured, Food & Ingredients