Whole Slvce Pizza

Whole Slvce Pizza logos cover the windows as construction continues inside the restaurant, 160 S. Avenida del Convento, on Jan. 17.

In 1997, Travis Evans sold everything he owned, packed up a big truck and moved to the Big Apple.

After working at Tucson's now-closed City Grill for three months, the executive chef moved to New York City, telling Evans that he would have a job for him on the east coast if he wanted it. So, Evans made the trip to the lower east side to work as a chef.

But when he checked out the restaurant he was planning to work at, it was going out of business.

Thankfully, that closed business led him down the path of becoming a distinguished baker, working in multiple bakeries around New York City.

Combining his love for baking and NYC, Evans and his business partner Ari Shapiro are starting their own grab ‘n go pizza joint called Whole Slvce, bringing all the charm and flavors from the east coast to 160 S. Avenida del Convento in Tucson.

“I miss New York, I lived there for 14 years,” Evans said. “I just miss the neighborhood and how you can walk down the street and just get food, whether it be a slice of pizza, burritos or Thai.”

Since his original plan in NYC was derailed, Evans got a job at the Sullivan Street Bakery. He ended up staying there for 10 years, learning about retail and the ins and outs of making Roman-style pizza, pastries and bread.

Over the years, Evans continued making bread and pastries at different bakeries across the city. He even got to make the pastries and pretzels at MetLife Stadium, formerly known as Meadowlands Stadium, for the New York Jets games.

“I am a baker. I'm a bread baker. I love making bread,” Evans said. “Through these restaurants, I kind of just picked up cooking, you know, and the knowledge of it. So that's how I kind of segued into pizza because I like the transformation that the product goes through.”

Evans found himself back in Tucson 11 years later, finding a job at Frogs Organic Bakery, a French bakery that was in the Casa Adobes Plaza. Evans continued doing what he did best: make bread.

After working at the bakery, Evans moved to a different plaza: the St. Philip's Plaza. He started the bread and pastry program at Union Public House, where they built him a shop to supply all the baked goods for the restaurant as well as Reforma and later Proof Artisanal Pizza.

“I just had a couple staff and we would just supply Union and Reforma, making like 6,000 flour tortillas weekly,” Evans said. “So it was a cool opportunity to kind of branch out from just the bread.”

While doing research for Proof, Evans ate at Falora, a local restaurant that specializes in Neapolitan pizza. That’s where he met Shapiro.

“That was about almost five years ago now,” Evans said. “He [Shapiro] was making pizza and I started just picking his brain about what he's doing. Eventually, I just ended up buying half of Falora and became 50-50 partners.”

At Falora, Evans helped create various plant-based pizzas and pastas, but a piece of his heart was still in New York City. That’s when he and Shapiro decided to bring the slice shops seen in the Big Apple to Tucson.

Whole Slvce is their love letter to New York, combining delicious New York-style pizza slices with the charm and community of the city.

To achieve their vision, they had to find the perfect location. All their boxes had to be checked. The ground floor of the Monier Apartments passed all the tests.

Evans liked the location because it meant people lived above the shop, just like the bakery he worked at in New York. Since its right next to the Mercado San Agustin, there’s always people walking around and there are other local restaurants in the area, creating the same community Evans saw on the east coast. Not to mention the streetcar runs through the Mercado District, reminiscent of the subway.

The slices that will be served at Whole Slvce are a huge shift from the ones seen at Falora. Neapolitan pizzas at Falora bake at around 800 degrees and are 12 inches, featuring more tender crusts. But at this new location, Evans will be making 18-inch pizzas, cutting them into nine-inch slices, so people can order, grab their slice and be on their way.

“When you're going to bake a New York-style pie around 640 degrees or something versus 800 degrees, it's going stay in there a little bit longer,” Evans said. “So all the flavors are going to bake into it. All the fats are going to come out and just kind of melt into all the veggies, cheese and the toppings.”

Joe Ty Lutki, the electrical supervisor with Palo Verde Electric, drills holes into a plank of wood to insert wires through as construction continues on Whole Slvce Pizza, 160 S. Avenida del Convento, on Jan. 17.

While menu details are still under wraps, Evans said they are going to have six pizzas and six vegan versions, so everyone can enjoy a slice.

Right now, Evans said they are putting on the finishing touches and plan to test out the pizzas before Whole Slvce opens for business, aiming to start serving up slices in mid-April.

To Shapiro and Evans, Whole Slvce is more than just a pizza place. It’s a new opportunity to bring the community together while enjoying cheesy, pepperoni goodness.

“I’m excited to feed people delicious food and make new friends,” Evans said.

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Jamie Donnelly is the food writer for #ThisIsTucson. Contact her via e-mail at jdonnelly@tucson.com