Dough Boy

Paul Hibler shows off his passion for pizza at the new Pitfire in Manhattan Beach.

You’ve undoubtedly seen the lines by now, but have you had the pizza? It’s appropriate that the seventh incarnation of Paul Hibler’s and co-owner David Sanfield’s Pitfire Pizza rose from the ashes of the old Pasta Pomodoro on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. At some point, most South Bay residents probably enjoyed a perfectly passable if not memorable meal at Pomodoro, a generic chain of inoffensive Italian joints. 

What’s exciting about Pitfire Pizza is the passion—you sense it in the dining room, in the faces of the crew and, most importantly, in the all-important crust. Paul Hibler and David Sanfield ardently resist the idea of a chain, although their winning formula is an undeniable hit.

Rather, they talk a lot about what it takes to be an artisan making artisanal food. And you know what? These guys walk the walk too.

I caught up with Paul recently to check in on Pitfire’s first month of business in Manhattan Beach. I’d met him earlier in the year when he hired my old NY chef pal, Jason Neroni, to open Superba Snack Bar in Venice. I helped the team there get their wine program up and running, but looking back, I kind of wish I’d asked to be paid in pizza in perpetuity—that would have been a smart call on my part.

Paul opened the first Pitfire Pizza in the NoHo Arts District back in 1998, after an epic year and a half in Mexico spent feeding the cast and crew of a little boat film called Titanic. Despite a wildly successful career in movie catering, Paul yearned to do something more personal, and for him, that meant pizza.

He and his partners spent years perfecting Pitfire’s crust, and he bristles just a little bit when folks claim he took a page from Pizzeria Mozza’s playbook. Pitfire was doing its thing a full seven years before Nancy Silverton got the pizza itch.

Over the past 15 years, Paul has defined and refined what he calls “deconstructed food with higher value” and insists his culinary mission is to “bring quality, authentic food to everyday life that is accessible and artisan.” He adds, “If you want to be an artisan, you need to put your time in,” which is partially the reason he and his partners have grown Pitfire sustainably, if you will, as opposed to the blistering pace of the Umami Burger empire as a counter-example. 

When asked about Manhattan Beach, Paul gets excited. “It’s like the perfect example of my aspiration for Pitfire—we make community gathering places just like the old pizza parlor.”

He cites the “tightness and togetherness” of the South Bay as a major factor; that, and its rising reputation as a place for culinary opportunity that is distinct from metropolitan LA in key ways. “They get it here,” he continues, “the way that food, community and design can be brought together (in a restaurant).”

On the design front, Paul’s collaboration with Anthony Agriam has created a raw industrial—but warm—feeling with both indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a place where you might well do justice to the 22 microbrews on tap after a morning set, or where you might join the mighty cavalcade of hipster parents who park their strollers for an early glass of casual, affordable wine.

Value is an important part of the Pitfire proposition. A friend who frequents the Culver City location at least three times a week wishes he could get 401K options to match his pizza expenses. I concur, as that crust is just so, so, so good.

Pitfire Artisan Pizza
401 Manhattan Beach Boulevard

Manhattan Beach
310-359-9555, pitfirepizza.com

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