Plaza palates

Driving down N.W. 16th Street through the Plaza District in September, it wasn’t uncommon to see long lines stretching almost a block in length as folks clamored to get a slice of pizza from the area’s hottest new eatery, Empire Slice House, 1734 N.W. 16th.

With its welcoming pink elephant out front and teenager’s bedroom decor of pop-culture posters wheat-pasted along the walls inside, it has become the go-to place for premium slices of hot, madeto-order pizza. Co-owners Rachel Cope and Avery Cannon say they were inspired to open Empire after a recent trip to the hippest city in Texas.

“I had gone to Austin a couple of weeks before we approached the owners of this building with this concept, and it just seemed like 16th Street really reminded me of South Congress in Austin,” Cope says of the popular strip of road that runs south out of downtown Austin. “There’s a place down there called Home Slice that really kind of stuck with me, and it was what we went with. It’s our way of filling a niche in the city, and it’s everything that we’d want to see in a business.”

So far, it has worked. Cope says that the main reason for their success is the quality craftsmanship. She is a 2012 graduate of the prestigious Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza’s American/ Sicilian course held in San Francisco. She is one of only two Oklahomans who are certified from the pizza school.

“We take a lot of time and effort with the ingredients we put into our pizzas,” Cannon says. “From the cheese to the meats, everything is really high-quality.”

Cope
adds that the response has exceeded what they expected and each day
continues to grow with more people coming in, trying it out and then
bringing their friends.

“Some
of the best compliments that I’ve received have been from people who
[say] that this is the type of place that they can bring their friends
from Seattle, New York and San Francisco. We wanted to help further the
food scene in Oklahoma City, and I feel like we’ve done that,” Cope
says.

But that’s not the only new or expanding business in the Plaza.

Across
the street from Empire, construction is finishing up on District House,
1755 N.W. 16th, a new coffee shop and café that is the pet-project of
the popular The Parish church. Pastor Kenny Deason says that this is
their way of creating a hub for discussion and community in the area.

“Our
reason for wanting to have what we feel like is a natural need and
service to the neighborhood is a good marketplace purpose,” Deason says.
“We see ourselves embracing the idea of districts developing in cities
and specifically feel like, in districts, creating places that have been
developed for, created for and can accommodate all the necessary
loitering needs of a community is important.”

District
House will serve hot deli sandwiches, coffee and espresso, as well as
canned pint beers from Oklahoma City breweries. They will provide a
space for local artists and musicians to showcase their talents. Thanks
to donations and their recent Propeller fundraiser, The Parish has
reached a majority of its $70,000 goal to revitalize and revamp the
space where District House will sit, including updating the restrooms
and electrical and heating systems.

The
constant work has created a buzz in the Plaza District that Deason says
has numerous business owners and Plaza patrons telling him almost daily
how it will become their new hangout spot. Deason says that that’s the
“exact reason” they’ve built District House.

“Coffee
is as important of an element to conversational culture in America,”
Deason says. “I think the growing trend of coffee shops exists because
Americans really do like coffee, but even more than that, they enjoy the
community, the conversational centerpiece that a coffee shop can bring.
It’s a space to create conversation and community. It’s something that
people here have been waiting for.”

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