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DIY model helps business

Mother of four has seen busier nights at pizzeria since letting customers build their own pies.

July 01, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com
  • Reagan Horter, 3, counts the pizzas he is making with his father, Greg, at Francesca's restaurant in Costa Mesa on Friday. Francesca's allows customers to make their own pizzas.
Reagan Horter, 3, counts the pizzas he is making with his… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

She's been cooking American breakfasts for nearly a decade at the Best Western Newport Mesa Inn on Newport Boulevard, but times have been tough these days, so Francesca Gibson-Tucker has decided to branch out — Italian-style.

Every Friday for the past few months, the Costa Mesa chef and 1974 graduate of Newport Harbor High School has been letting the customers build their own pizzas — from rolling the dough to pouring on the marinara sauce to loading up favorite toppings.

So far, the "Build your own Pizza" night at the hotel's restaurant, between the hours of 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., has been a success since it started a few months ago. And the more people who come in the merrier for Gibson-Tucker, a mother of four whose career has been hardscrabble at best.

"We're talking about $7 for a personal pan pizza and a salad," said Gibson-Tucker. "But people are funny; they always end up making the pies a little bit bigger. They start out with a personal pan then pretty soon it becomes a medium, then a large."

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But Gibson-Tucker isn't one to quibble over the price of dough.

She's just happy that customers are banging down the door to the restaurant, where she waits for them, then walks them through the whole process of "pizza building" before ferrying the pies to the kitchen, where the oven is ready at 400 degrees.

"The parents are always amazed at how fast everything goes," said Gibson-Tucker, whose customers of late include youth soccer teams. "It's like the speed dating of pizza-making. It only takes about 10 minutes to bake."

And if there were ever a woman who knows how to put together a pizza, it would be Gibson-Tucker, who grew up learning to bake pies. It helps matters, of course, that she's Italian on her father's side and that her great grandparents came from Sicily.

While Naples may be the birth place of the pizza, Sicily's never one to be entirely outdone, she said.

"We were an Italian family," she said, "so all we did was cook or think about cooking. Every night, it was something different. If we didn't feel like getting elaborate, then we'd bake a pie. I don't think I went to a Shakey's until I was in high school. We were always going over to my grandma's or aunty's."

Now everybody's going over to Francesca's, a small restaurant across from the lobby of the hotel at 2642 Newport Blvd., near the Orange County Fairgrounds.

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