A Slice of Columbus
Pals build low-budget pizza empire from scratch
By Travis HoewischerPublished September 1, 2011
columbus craigslist > personals > missed connections
Late Night Slice, we pretended to date, I walked with you home - m4w - 20 (Late Night Slice)
I wish I had been slightly more sober. I would have told you how great you were. I have never posted anything like this on craigslist before, I just wanted you to know you are fantastic. Late night slice never fails to produce a boatload of interesting people but you win hands down. You were funny, beautiful, and had a smile I won’t forget. Sorry if I was a little gone. I don’t remember too much of what I said but I hope it was worth a giggle or two. I wish you all the best. maybe see you again late in the night getting pizza but hopefully I may be a bit more sober at the time.
Well, you don’t get that at Pizza Hut.
This online missive might as well be placed on the front page of the prospectus of Mikey’s Late Night Slice, the brainchild of Mikey Sorboro, Jason Biundo and Bryce Ungerott that, in a little over two years, has grown to be one of the most successful eateries in Columbus. On the strength of their simple recipe, their reverence for Faygo, and little else, Mikey’s has carved out a niche all their own. This month, the LNS crown adds its shiniest jewel yet, as they step up to being the exclusive food purveyor for the historic Newport Music Hall.
To meet Sorboro, a gregarious, always-smiling Italian, one would assume he’d spent his whole life in the current business; perhaps tugging at the apron of his father or grandfather while they spun pies for the neighborhood.
Not even close, he says.
“I’m a total ringer man,” he said, laughing. “I’m the American Italian, watching The Sopranos and thinking that might be cool.”
Before Late Night Slice, Italian Mike was essentially a long-time server with no more front of the house experience than your average diner. What he did have was a transplanted vision, which he and his friend and business partner Biundo brought back to Columbus after a stint in Key West.
“There was a place there that we wound up; it was the only place that was open past the bars, and we’d chomp down two or three slices every night we went out,” Biundo recalled. “Every time we were there, we were like, ‘This pizza’s awful.’ We thought, ‘How great would it be if something was like this, open that late, and the pizza was good?’”
Both agree they borrowed the idea of Mikey’s being a little more tongue-in-cheek than your average new business from their experience as full-time servers at Dick’s Last Resort, the themed restaurant chain known for serving as much jerkiness as food.
“It was the best serving job you can ever have,” Sorboro said, smiling. “It was just about being sassy, about, really – being a d**k. People loved it.”
Already in business for themselves running ECT Pedicab in the Short North, the two often heard from customers about what they saw as a lack of pizza by the slice in Columbus.
“Late Night Slice was built from getting tired of eating White Castle and street meat,” Sorboro said. “It’s 3 a.m., and people are hammered and hungry.”
The First Slice
After walking by the small shack-like structure that now houses the original Mikey’s every day when leaving his High Street apartment, Sorboro eventually got the idea to re-invent the former used car lot office – roughly the size of a dirt-cheap Brooklyn apartment. For the most part abandoned for the past two decades, the shack took some work to bring up to code, and even after the opening night on July 4th, 2009, Sorboro says there were still plenty of lumps in the sauce.
“We did a few things correctly, did a few things incorrectly . . . we got fined for a few things,” he laughed.
During the early days, the LNS crew was simply filling a niche, not making a new one, by purchasing whole pizzas from Clintonville’s Pizza Primo and re-selling them. After a few weeks, the operation was popular enough that Sorboro and the crew starting making their own dough and firing up the ovens themselves. He recalls he and Ungerott squaring off on opposite sides of the dough ball, perplexed like monkeys before a monolith.
“I remember we had gotten it kinda flat,” he said with a laugh, “but each of us were pulling on a side trying to stretch it out. That’s how green we were. We had never made a pizza before in our lives – not even at our house.”
Using the Key West pie as a base, Sorboro and Biundo developed their pizza into the popular staple it is today (light sauce, seasoned pepperoni), along with their popular “Slut Sauce” topping, which became so in-demand they had to start selling it separately.
Meanwhile, Mikey’s has also served as an incubator for a variety of wild performances to get folks to notice the modest shack; fire-juggling stilt walkers, bands and classic movies frequently grace the parking lot of LNS, and their playfully perverse menu gives regulars and newcomers their own taste of an inside joke – that everyone is in on.
“The Columbus nightlife served as an enormous guinea pig for a long time,” Sorboro said.
A Bigger Piece of the Pie
Just two years into their business, LNS has become a local dining institution with a reach far out-weighing the physical size of the operation. These days you can see the LNS food truck all over the city, along with their less-than-a-year-old location in the newly renovated Woodlands Tavern.
It’s the same sort of rapid expansion that has led Columbus’ other single-serving impresario, Jeni Britton Bauer, to national fame. Sorboro offers a humble smile and laugh at the comparison, quick to remind us that he and Biundo “wake up and sit across from our desks and look at each other pretty much every day like, ‘Wow, we can’t believe this is happening.’”
“We prefer term ‘reckless’ expansion,” Sorboro added with a laugh.
Now, after opening a shop on Duncan Avenue and an Arena District location, LNS is putting a much bigger stamp on Columbus.
On September 13th, Mikey’s Late Night Slice will become the official food purveyor for the historic Newport Music Hall – a massive coup for two guys who didn’t know how to stretch pizza dough when they started.
“We put that on our vision board and we made it happen . . . by thinking about it all the time,” Biundo said, only partially facetious.
“I think they’re really excited to have us there. They kept saying, ‘You guys are the perfect fit. Your image and everything is so perfect for what we wanted.’ We couldn’t be more excited about that,” Sorboro added. “It’s really flattering. A lot of people don’t know that PromoWest Productions is a small business too. You think ‘concerts’ and everyone must be rich, but they’re just a bunch of locals like we are.”
Despite the expansion, the LNS crew is staying humble and close to their “we-kinda-know-what-we’re-doing” ideology. As Biundo put it (again, only half-jokingly), the principle of LNS is pretty simple: “It’s 3 a.m. and you’re drunk . . . you’re gonna eat it,” he said. “That’s basically our unofficial motto.”
For hours and locations, visit www.latenightslice.com