Papi’s Pizza brings a new perspective to Fort Wayne’s pizza selection

Last fall, Papi’s Pizza joined the lineup of restaurants that call The Landing home, filling the spot left by the closure of Alto Grado Pizza.

Papi’s Pizza is the second restaurant from Te Gustó Hospitality, owned by husband and wife duo Johnny and Elsi Perez. They also own Mercado on The Landing, which is next door to Papi’s Pizza and currently celebrating its third anniversary. Te Gustó Hospitality also operates the Mercado Food Truck and has a third development, Spoke & Ivy, in the works.

When Alto Grado announced they were closing in July of 2023, the Perezes saw an opportunity and took it.

Papi’s Pizza is a new frontier for Te Gustó Hospitality, both in style of service and menu. Patrons at Mercado on The Landing get a full-service dining experience, while Papi’s provides more of a hybrid of laid-back counter service and a full dining experience.

Creating a menu required some trial and error– even if the whole process only took two months in total.

“We did all the whole concept, branding, and menu development in two months,” Johnny says. “We had a tight window and I think a lot of people helped out, influenced the menu, and now we're open.”

What they came up with was a modern take on the classic pizza joint. Papi’s Pizza serves up unique pizzas, wings, and house-made ice cream. Pizza– the star of the show, comes by the slice or by the pie. Patrons can find both round pizzas and rectangular Sicilian style, which Owner Johnny Perez describes as a sponger crust and a style distinct to them, setting them apart from other pizza places in the area.

Skate decks painted by local artists inside Papi's Pizza Company on The Landing in Downtown Fort Wayne.Papi’s offers flavor combinations you can’t find anywhere else in the Summit City. Pizzas like the Jalapeno Hunny, a crowd favorite featuring ricotta, jalapenos (pickled in-house), and pepperoni, and the Chili-Garlic Crunch Meatball, which comes with sliced meatballs, Garlic-Chili Crunch Oil, parsley, and green onion, are just a few of the innovations found on Papi’s menu. 

“I think that's kind of just something that we like to have a little bit of fun, but make sure that we don't have too much fun and not take it too seriously from a technical standpoint,” Johnny says of the unique menu.

He also points to a popular pizza topping on the East Coast as an inspiration for another one of their pizzas– calms. The pizza features chopped clams, herbed breadcrumbs, lemon, and a parmesan cream sauce. 

“There's some popular clam pizzas on the East Coast and I think to have that available in the Midwest would be fun,” he explains. “So we've had a lot of people come in and they eat one and they order one to go. We don't sell too many of them yet, but when people get it, they love it.”

The unique menu goes beyond crusts and pizza toppings too. The menu section titled “Wings & Things” boasts specialties like Chop’d Calm Dip, Bruh-Schetta, and wings with flavors like Twerkin’ Teriyaki, Buffalo, and Lemon-Pepper Dry Rub.

Wings with a house-made Teriyaki glaze at Papi's Pizza.“I don't know if it's super unique, obviously everyone has wings, but our wing sauces we make them from scratch and they're brick oven-baked wings,” Johnny explains. “So they don't go in the fryer. It’s a different texture, but then like the Teriyaki glaze is made in-house.”

They also sell classics, like cheese or pepperoni pizzas, cheesy bread, and Caesar salads, and offer options for dinners that are gluten-free or vegan.

Aside from making delicious food, Papi’s aims to invoke a strong feeling of nostalgia– from the 90s-themed murals on the walls to their “mascot,” everything about Papi’s takes visitors back to another time or place.

“We wanted some nostalgic feel from the art side, but it kind of has a lot of local art as well,” says Johnny. “So we have a big mural in there and then we have all these skate decks on a different wall– all done by different artists as well.”

For Te Gustó Hospitality, he says it’s important for them to lean into the local ecosystem by not only collaborating with other chefs but with other types of artists too.

A mural inside Papi's Pizza Company on The Landing in Downtown Fort Wayne.As for their “mascot,” Papi Junior, who is a rat, Johnny and the staff at Papi’s Pizza prefer to think of him as the anti-hero of their restaurant. 

“Papi Junior is kind of like a mascot, but he's also kind of like, I would say like the menace behind the things that can go wrong in a restaurant,” Johnny says. “It kind of represents that like internally for us.”

He adds that Papi Junior sort of looks like a “mutated version of Chuck E. Cheese,” which also creates a bit of nostalgia for anyone who visited the popular chain in the 1990s or early 2000s.

Papi's Pizza Company and Mercado are both owned by Te Gustó Hospitality.Johnny says he enjoys calling The Landing home, in fact, he says that were it not for the close proximity to Mercado, Papi’s Pizza might not have happened.

“We have a prep room connected in the back, so it's literally like you can jump between the two,” he explains. “If it wasn't for that convenience, I don't think we would have done it– even if it was like one store down…so it kind of has multiple advantages.”

Not only do the Perezes enjoy the close proximity of their two open restaurants, but Johnny 
The addition of new destinations on The Landing creates a distinctive atmosphere in Downtown Fort Wayne and strengthens the sense of camaraderie between tenets located at The Landing.

“I think that's what creates those destination streets in other cities,” Johnny says. “I think The Landing, by having new tenants joining us, it just helps strengthen that camaraderie.”

While Papi’s Pizza is still new, Johnny says they’re off to a good start and have dreams for the future of their pizza joint, which include a license to sell beer, wine, and liquor (currently in the works), and working with more third-party delivery companies.

“We obviously always have an opportunity to improve, but I think to be only about three months old, I think it's got a good start,” he says.

As Te Gustó Hospitality continues to expand, the Perezes are aiming to become an industry leader for being progressive, improving standards for their staff, and improving the caliber of restauranteurs. He says having a strong restaurant goes beyond the numbers and philosophies that exist in the spreadsheets.

“I think the restaurant business has been known to like use and abuse people,” Johnny says. “I find value in this industry and I want to continue to progress it in better ways.”

Papi’s Pizza is located at 111 W. Columbia St, Suite 102. They’re open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on Fridays, and Noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays. They are closed on Sundays.

Mercado on The Landing is located at 111 W. Columbia St, Suite 103. They’re open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. They are also closed on Sundays.
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Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.