The buffet at Pizza State on Ennis Joslin is a crowd draw and keeps the loyal coming back. (Matt Briscoe)

Matt Briscoe

It’s a known fact that pizza is a popular dish no matter where you go, and South Texas is no exception. In New York, you have Neapolitan style with tomatoes and mozzarella similar to what you’d like to think you’d find in Naples. Chicago is known for their deep dish approach to the gooey, greasy dish. California has their off-beat vegetarian layouts, and Detroit has what they call a “red” pizza that’s catching on in the Midwest. But in South Texas we have “small town pizza” and there is plenty of it around.

If you like small town pizza you certainly have options. While it might not be the most traditional pie, small town pizza is by far the most common, aside from the more commercial familiar chains and franchises. Off the beaten path in Corpus Christi lies one such place called “Pizza State.”

It doesn’t sit on the main drag through town and it takes some work just to find it. In a discreet building located just off Ocean Drive and Ennis Joslin near Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, this little pizza diner has been cooking up small town pies and fan favorites for 13 years; and though the neighborhood business climate has changed, Pizza State’s product has remained constant.

Pizza State opened its doors in November 2006, and Manager Tammy Prosek has been there through much of it. Prosek makes it clear that she and Pizza State love their military personnel and contractors. They comprise a large portion of the restaurant’s clientele since changes to rules took effect aimed at keeping students and staff on campus and buying food from on campus contractors at nearby Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. But those changes have not stopped Pizza State from moving forward with their mission of providing a fair product at a fair price for whoever walks through their doors.

Part of the reason that Pizza State is successful is because of Prosek’s focus and commitment to building relationships with the people that she and her staff serve on a regular basis. In fact, it’s that personality that keeps people coming back again and again.

It is no secret that there is plenty of dough to be made in the pizza industry and by dough, we mean dollars. In fact, the U.S. pizza industry is worth nearly $46 billion in revenue, according to economic research obtained through the federal government. Not surprisingly, the top pizza chains are dominating the industry easily with nearly a 60% slice of the market, or $26 billion. Yet, eateries such as Pizza State, which represent the independent market, are worth nearly $19 million in revenue.

While that may sound like a lot of money, establishments like Pizza State still struggle quarterly to keep people coming through their doors. Research provided through the United States Department of Labor and Statistics showed that in 2017 alone, independent operators opened 2,868 stores and closed over 4,000 stores. As competition stiffens in the pizza industry, it is the independent operators that are finding themselves struggling to stay afloat.

Experts in academia suggest that slick marketing promises from organizations like Facebook, Google and Seamless are preying on small, independent retailers like Pizza State. Internet marketing companies troll small businesses and make inflated promises that can’t be easily tracked or verified. But, it is the technical curve that independent operators need to grasp.

In fact, industry powerhouse Dominos Pizza has wrapped their arms around technology and has been investing millions of dollars into developing new ways for consumers to interact and buy their product. Another industry leader, “Yum!” Brands, and Pizza Hut have been experimenting with call-centers and the very impersonal touch that they think consumers want. If they want to continue, independent operators, such as Pizza State, will have to bridge that gap, too.

Pizza State survives on word-of-mouth advertising, limited social media and good old-fashioned self promotion. That all sounds good, however one could argue that Pizza State is being left behind when it comes to technology and being able to meet the demands of their customers on an intellectual level.

But in the end, Pizza State and Manager Tammy Prosek are doing what they can to make ends meet in the local, independent pizza market. Focusing on their buffet, putting people first, creating a good product, and building relationships with the community is what it’s all about—and for Pizza State and pizza lovers across Corpus Christi, that is a good thing regardless of how you slice it.

A lime green surf board adds to the decor and allure of Pizza State and it could be that the ability to connect with the local community is what sets them apart. (Matt Briscoe)
A few patrons enjoy a late lunch at Pizza State on a recent weekday afternoon (Matt Briscoe)