Popularity can sometimes be a curse. Blue Pan Pizza first brought Detroit-style pizza to 3930 West 32nd Avenue in West Highland five years ago, and the tiny pizzeria has been packed like a sardine can ever since. The addition of a second Blue Pan in Congress Park two years later did nothing to diminish the crush of fans at the original location. But the opportunity finally arose to grab a little more real estate, so owners Giles Flanagin and Jeff Smokevitch just signed a lease on a new space.
The move won't be far, though; in fact, it will be just one door down in the same building. Blue Pan will move to 3940 West Highland Avenue, which has been vacant since Highland Pacific Restaurant & Oyster Bar closed a few months before Blue Pan arrived on the block.
Flanagin says he and Smokevitch considered expanding the footprint of the pizzeria to both spaces, but that would mean closing Blue Pan for months during construction. They didn't want to lose customers and they didn't want to put employees out of work, so the decision to move rather than expand was easy. "We will not jeopardize our staff," Flanagin explains. "Everyone will remain employed through the move."
That won't be for a while, though, as the owners have to go through the permitting process and have their plans approved by the city. "Our best guess is fourth quarter 2020," Flanagin adds.
Once construction is complete, Blue Pan will close for about a week to move equipment, test the kitchen and walk servers through handling the larger space. After the move, the restaurant will be 2.5 times larger than the original, with room for sixty to seventy guests, including bar seating. The kitchen will be bigger too, allowing additional menu items such as the eggplant fries and arancini Blue Pan already makes from scratch at the Congress Park location.
"But the biggest thing for us is the customer experience and the employee culture," Flanagin notes. With more space, even takeout customers will feel more comfortable, and servers will have extra room to converse with regulars and navigate between tables.
Flanagin's focus on employee culture is so important to him because he believes low turnover is crucial to his restaurants' success. Blue Pan runs turnover calculations every June, and as of last summer, the number came in at 15 percent, which translates to better customer service and retention of staff knowledge, making training new employees easier.
Even after the move, the West Highland Blue Pan is likely to be full every night, thanks to the great pies formulated by Smokevitch and the co-owners' dedication to doing things right.