Serving up a different kind of pie

Once home to a Marie Callender's, which served sweet and savory pies for more than 45 years, the brick building at 353 E. 17th St. in Costa Mesa will reopen this fall to serve a whole new kind of doughy goodness: wood-fired pizza.

Los Angeles-based Pitfire Artisan Pizza is on track to open its sixth location here in early October, bringing a variety of rustic, fire-singed pizza recipes, a new community space and a 630-degree kiln.

Though details are still in the works, the owners plan to have a grand-opening event, and a series of preopening art installations and festivities to get to know their future regulars.

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2011, Perkins & Marie Callender's Inc. closed the Costa Mesa location, along with 30 others across the nation that were performing poorly.

The small diner near Westport Square sat vacant for less than a year before Pitfire founders Paul Hibler and David Sanfield set their sights on the property for their first branch-out into Orange County.

The new location will pay homage to its Marie Callender's history and the legacy of pie business guru Mildred Pierce by incorporating a speak-easy. It will also feature a second kitchen equipped with an oven for testing new pizza ideas and for events and gatherings.

"This location will be the fruition of all my work at Pitfire," Hibler said Tuesday. "I've learned a lot doing this for so long. It's all about the intersection of food, design and communities. We curate each space in such a way that you would never think there's a big company behind it.

"It's unique to where it is and serves the community around it. That's our goal."

Pitfire already has locations in North Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles, Westwood, Mar Vista and West Hollywood, and another new store slated for Manhattan Beach.

"Moving into Orange County was a natural progression," Hibler said. "Costa Mesa has a lot of very fascinating projects going on right now, like the Lab and the Camp, and I'm really looking forward to meeting my new community."

With a focus on fresh ingredients and handmade dough — using trade-secret proportions of flour, water and yeast — the pizza company hopes to foster the burgeoning dining scene in Costa Mesa.

"I think our approach to food stands on its own," Hibler said. "I don't need to talk it up. We use the best to make the best."

In addition to slices, Pitfire offers a selection of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pasta. Most items are less than $12. The restaurant offers a children's menu and a selection of beers and wines.

The layout includes a unique indoor space and expanded outdoor patio, replete with long communal tables and an open floor plan. The restaurant also has 60 parking spaces available for diners.

Hibler and Sanfield, in the pizza business together since 1997, focus as much on quality as they do on each location's interior design.

"Like other Pitfire pizzas, this aesthetic will be based on a 'kit of parts' mentality," Pitfire spokeswoman Juliana Pesavento said in an email.

The philosophy presents each designer with the challenge of incorporating the company's signature elements into a design to reflect the community. The Costa Mesa location will be one of the largest, according to Pesavento.

"It's surf meets Volkswagen, camper bus meets beach community," Hibler said.

Los Angeles designer Anthony Agriam is responsible for the Costa Mesa location's design, working with Pitfire's official color pallet of reds, whites, charcoals and yellows, and natural materials like wood and steel.

The result is something Hibler struggled to describe.

"It's funky, weird, and it might not make sense out of context," he said. "Just know that it's in good hands. Agriam is one of the top architect designers in L.A."

Hailing from San Francisco, Hibler said his primary goal is to provide a new space for the community.

"I grew at a time when pizza parlors were an important part of our lives," he said. "I have this itch that I'm trying to scratch … to make communal spaces like I had, where the community can escape from that isolated life behind their iPhones and computers, and have a conversation over a really good slice of pie."

The Costa Mesa location will be open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

It takes reservations for parties of eight or more, provides online ordering for takeout orders, and offers catering services.

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