Six years after opening Turkish spot Cazbar in Mt. Vernon, local restaurateur Haluk Kantar was ready to start a new venture.
“I was getting antsy,” Kantar says. “I had developed enough staff that I didn’t need to put so much effort into Cazbar anymore—I figured I would do another project.”
The project became Homeslyce—a neighborhood pizza joint that debuted in Federal Hill back in 2012 and has since grown to include locations in Mt. Vernon, Canton, and Columbia. In the coming months, the chain’s footprint will continue to expand with an eatery opening in the former PJ’s Pub space in Charles Village, and multiple locations planned for Washington, D.C. in 2018.
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Homeslyce puts a unique spin on a traditional slice. Instead of the typical triangle, Kantar’s signature “slices” are boat-shaped, inspired by classic Turkish pizza, known as pides.
“We had been doing it that way for years at Cazbar,” says Kantar. “It’s different from a traditional flatbread or a regular slice. It’s our own little twist.”
For years, Kantar had been looking to bring his pizzas to North Baltimore, and jumped at the opportunity to take over the former PJ’s property after the longtime Johns Hopkins hangout closed its doors last month, when owner Jerry Smith announced his retirement.
“I don’t think we can do what Jerry did,” Kantar says. “He’s been around for 30 years. If you went to a lacrosse game, Jerry was there. Nobody can fill his shoes, but we’re going to do whatever we can to fit in with Hopkins’ master plan for the community.”
Construction to add windows and outdoor seating to the subterranean property began last week, and is expected to wrap up by December—just in time for the beginning of Hopkins’ spring semester. Kantar says that the revamped interior will mimic Homeslyce’s Columbia location, which boasts chalkboard walls and industrial accents.
The brand’s first D.C. location, slated to open in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood by the end of October, will debut ahead of the Charles Village opening.
As the business continues to evolve, Kantar says that finding new ways to connect with customers remains a top priority. He recently joined pizza delivery app Slice—a New York-based technology that operates in more than 1,900 cities nationwide, and launched in Charm City last week.
Unlike other on-demand services like Grubhub and Uber Eats, Slice focuses exclusively on independent pizzerias, eliminating big-name behemoths like Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. Among the local spots listed on the app are Michaelangelo’s in Mt. Vernon, Mikie’s Pizza in Riverside, and Bella Roma Pizza in Pigtown.
“We’re focused on loyalty,” says Slice’s senior regional manager Jim Ashley. “Instead of being a discovery platform, we want you to be able to go back to your favorite local pizzeria every single time.”
As the local pie scene continues to flourish (new spot Charm City Pizza is expected to replace the old Joe Squared location in Power Plant Live later this month), Kantar is focused on adapting with the times.
“I never expected it to expand this quickly,” he says. “It started out as a hobby that I thought would just be a small local pizza bar. But we’re learning as we grow.”