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Caitlin McGarry

Pop Up Pizza pops up at Plaza

31 May 2012

The Plaza's Pop Up Pizza might not have its sign or menu boards up yet, but buzz is quickly building around downtown's newest eatery.

The not-so-secret pizzeria is a joint venture between real estate developer Sam Cherry and Plaza Hotel and Casino owner Tamares Real Estate. The idea was born from a casual conversation this year between Cherry and Jonathan Jossel, Tamares's director of Las Vegas properties, about what to do with vacant restaurant space near the casino's sports book.

Within 90 days, Pop Up Pizza began serving up downtown-themed pies such as the Goodman and the 18b. Chef Michael Vakneen also offers a vegan option, because Cherry is a vegan. Slices start at $3.25, pies at $14.99.

The pricing, the pizza names, the free Wi-Fi, the bicycle rack outside the Main Street-facing doors nearest to the pizzeria, and plans to soon deliver , indicate that Pop Up Pizza is not just another quick-service casino outpost.

"We did an analysis and looked at what pizza is at casinos across the Strip," said Cherry, who owns downtown high-rises Soho Lofts and Newport Lofts. "It was $5 and up for a slice. We could probably do it and service people that come in for the night, but that doesn't bring people from downtown."

The pizzeria's name evokes pop-up businesses such as galleries and restaurants that temporarily repurpose vacant space. But Pop Up Pizza will be a permanent fixture at the Plaza. Its name references both the quick turnaround time from conception to fruition and Cherry's plans to get the restaurant involved in the community.

"We'll do things outside of the Plaza to really bring downtown together, little pop-up pizzerias on Fremont East or at office buildings in the area, just to tie in with the name," Cherry said.

Other downtown pizzerias will give Pop Up Pizza some competition. There soon will be two pizzerias on East Fremont Street when Radio City Pizzeria opens , and Downtown3rd's Pizza Rock will be serving slices early next year in the Celebrity Theater's old spot on Third Street. But Cherry isn't worried.

"We want 10 more [pizza shops] down here," he said. "It's only good for downtown. It feels good to be the first of the new."

With Pop Up Pizza, the Plaza is an example of downtown casinos providing an urban experience that attracts locals and tourists alike, said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"They're not pretending to be on the Strip," Schwartz said of the Plaza. "They're aware of their surroundings, and they're using their surroundings to give people what they want."

The pizzeria rounds out the Plaza's dining offerings, at least for now.

"For the hotel, it's huge, because it brings energy to this end of the casino. It's a natural fit with the sports book," Jossel said.

Pop Up Pizza also will serve fried pickles, chicken wings and mozzarella sticks and offer 24-hour service on weekends, which will appeal to hotel guests and Fremont East barhoppers.