When Tracy Frankel came to Tucson almost two years ago, she thought that she and her husband, Marc, were entering semi-retirement. As it turns out, Marc had other plans.
The couple came from Portland, OR, where they own Pizzicato Pizza and Lovejoy Bakers. They started Pizzicato in 1989 and Lovejoy in 2009. They currently have 15 Pizzicato locations in the Portland metro area along with two retail locations for Lovejoy Bakers in addition to a large production bakery.
“We have been coming to the Tucson area for years. We love the desert, and we love Tucson specifically,” says Tracy. “We decided that our business in Portland was in very good hands with our CEO and we’ve been grooming him for the moment when we would be ready to step away for a bit. I thought we were going to go be in semi-retirement in Tucson, but that apparently is not in my husband’s vocabulary.”
They were in Tucson six months before Marc decided that they should open up a pizzeria in Tucson. “That’s just part of his personality,” says Tracy. Having been an entrepreneur and business owner for so long, he missed connecting with the community. “He loves the interaction with people. He feels like it is a direct give and take situation, and it feels very authentic to him – and he missed that.”
The couple didn’t want just to open up another location of Pizzicato. That business has been established for so long, people have their favorite items, and there is not much room for experimentation. Since Marc is also a chef, he wanted something that allowed him to be more creative and to try different techniques for Pizza Luna.
One of those different techniques is how they prepare their pizza dough. It’s similar to the process used in making artisan bread and something they use at Lovejoy Bakers. “It’s a three-day, cold-fermentation process,” says Tracy. “It makes the crust have a fermented, slightly sour flavor, not a true sourdough but a hint of sour, and the texture is both feathery and substantial at the same time. It has a crunch but it’s very, very tender on the inside. It’s sensational.”
Marc and Tracy both went through months of research and development trying to get the crust exactly how they wanted it – and they have been in the bakery business for nine years! It was an essential element that they wanted to be unique to Pizza Luna. They use a different preparation method for their dough at Pizzicato. The mixture has the same ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt, but in Portland it’s a 12-hour process instead of three days.
Once the dough is ready, the pizza is topped using “the absolute highest-quality ingredients and a light touch” and then cooked in a very hot oven for a short period of time. “The high heat creates what’s called a ‘leopard spot,’ ” says Tracy. “We use an electric oven that we have set around 800 degrees – in Italy, they used wood-fired ovens – it kind of lightly sears the crust on the outside and renders a fabulous flavor.”
Pizza Luna is open every day of the week except Monday; that way the whole staff gets a full day off. “It’s very much a lifestyle-oriented place in terms of employment,” says Tracy. “That is very important to us. We offer lots of fabulous benefits including health insurance. It’s very important for us to treat our employees the way that they should be treated.”
The Frankels have two daughters who are 25 and 27, and although they worked at the restaurants when they were younger, they are now following their own paths.
Pizza Luna does have an interesting family connection to its name. Tracy is an equestrian and Luna was the name of one of her horses. “We both loved how it sounded, and we both loved her very much, so we decided to name it after her,” says Tracy. Unfortunately, Luna passed away unexpectedly, so having her name on the business has taken on a much greater significance for the couple.
They are looking forward to spending more time in Tucson and since they go back and forth a lot between Arizona and Portland Tracy admits that they won’t be “true Arizonans” until they spend an entire summer here.
Pizza Luna is located at 1101 N. Wilmot Road in Tucson. For more information, visit pizza-luna.com.