Pizza connoisseurs tend to have strong opinions about what style they prefer—and there’s a new player in town whose goal is to change up the pizza scene, one pie at a time.
R Town Pizza is a new Detroit-style pizzeria located in Reno Town Mall—in the space formerly occupied by Pirates Pizza—owned by Marvin Kinney. What, exactly, is Detroit-style pizza? Based on traditional “Sicilian grandmas’ recipes,” this thick-crust pie dates back to the 1940s and Buddy’s Rendezvous, a Detroit-area pizza chain. It spread from there, and the style eventually became more recognized. Today, it’s one of the fastest-growing segments of the pizza industry.
Kinney, an Idaho native, moved to the area three years ago and joined a business partner up in Tahoe. They started a business and were looking to expand—when the COVID shutdown hit. Dissatisfied with what he was doing and the restaurant industry in general, he parted ways with his partner in the summer of 2020 and decided to do his own thing.
“I love restaurants, and I love doing this, but the industry in and of itself is kind of toxic,” Kinney said.
From low wages to practices Kinney likens to slave labor, he has made it his mission to upend what he believes are no longer feasible restaurant business models.
“I always said this industry was coming for a reckoning,” he said. “I didn’t think COVID was going to be it, but right now, what we’re seeing is the free market has spoken.”
Indeed, it has—and Kinney’s solution is more nuanced and humanitarian than one might expect: Kinney is a single father of two children, both on the autism spectrum, and it is apparent his desire to improve the industry comes from a place of deep care.
“Now you have a lot of restaurants who are yelling about a worker shortage, but in reality, it’s a wage shortage—and a respect thing,” Kinney said.
In addition to paying a living wage, Kinney seems to value compassion and patience. He isn’t big on write-ups or firing people, and he takes mental-health days as seriously as other sick days. Kinney said he wants R Town to be a place where his employees can feel appreciated and secure, while growing in their careers.
“I’d rather teach and coach,” he said. “I want everybody who works here, when they leave here, to feel like they learned something, and they become stronger and better with what they’re doing. That’s ultimately my goal.”
Kinney’s employees come from all walks of life. With his own kids in mind, he recalled a statistic that prior to COVID, 85% of adults on the spectrum were underemployed or out of work.
“We’re willing to give anybody a shot if they want to come in and work,” he said—adding that the work isn’t always easy.
Starting his new business has not been easy, either. Kinney has had to deal with code changes and updates after moving into a space that had been occupied by the same business for decades. The supply chain disruption caused problems early on, and finding reliable contractors is always a challenge. He estimated that he’s built 70% of the shop with his own two hands, down to the linoleum-tile floor. Fortunately, he had help from friends and investors who believed in what he was doing. Kinney has maintained an open dialogue between himself and the community, using his Facebook and Instagram pages as a sort of “walking, live document” detailing the ups and downs of R Town’s opening.
“It resonated with people—and I don’t know why,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing it, though.”
One Facebook post was shared more than 250 times locally, and people kept coming in to check the place out—often wanting to help, work or spend money, simply based his social media posts.
“This community as a whole has been mind-blowing for me,” said Kinney. “The amount of help that we have been offered and have received from people—I don’t even know.”
The hard work Kinney and his team have put into the place is apparent. As we talked, patrons came and went, and the employees in the open kitchen buzzed about like they’d been there for years. Joan Jett rocked out overhead, and a few pinball machines—including an original 1989 Elvira machine—beckoned to be played. The place has a refreshing, bright and open ambiance. Kinney said patrons often mention the place’s welcoming vibe.
Now, back to the food: Detroit-style pizza has a distinctive focaccia-like crust and square shape, because, as the legend goes, the pizzas were originally made in steel automotive-parts pans. The crust is about an inch thick, yet light, airy and crisp, but with a slight chew. Cheese blends are common, with Wisconsin block and mozzarella being R Town’s preferred mix. The cheese is put directly onto the dough, followed by the toppings—and then, finally, the sauce is applied in a “racing stripe” pattern, in honor of Detroit being Motor City.
R Town’s top three pies are the Three One Three, a “ubiquitous Detroit-style” double pepperoni pie; The Motown, R Town’s version of a supreme pizza; and the Alex Murphy, a spicy meat pizza named after the Robocop character. Non-pizza favorites include the garlic cheese bread, meatballs, and the Pterosaur wings: one-pound confit-style turkey wings cooked for 10 hours with a choice of sauce.
Kinney said all of the dough, bread, sauces and dressings—plus even the vegan cheese—is made in-house. (Yes, R Town also has vegetarian and vegan options.) Kinney and crew also try to minimize waste and packaging, using boxes that fit the Detroit-style pie’s unique shape.
Despite the stress and setbacks, Kinney said he’s treated it all as a learning experience. He chooses to focus on the positive and feels great satisfaction seeing his customers and employees happy and enjoying themselves. He said he still has much work to do to stabilize the business, but he has high hopes for what is to come.
“This is a future for my kids. I want to build something that I can leave them, because I have to think about that stuff,” Kinney said. “I want my employees to grow and be happy.”
He said he also thinks about opening other locations in the future and creating ownership options for his employees. He loves the idea of all of his franchisees being people who have worked for R Town.
“I just hope we build something that is beautiful and resonates with (employees), and that they’re happy with, and that they’re happy to come in and do every day,” Kinney said. “Really, that’s it. That’s all I can ask for.”
R Town Pizza is located at 180 W. Peckham Lane, No. 1100. For more information, call 775-622-8838, or visit rtownpizza.com.