Mobile pizzeria, Ciao Down, is now a brick-and-mortar culinary studio

Off the Eatin' Path

Unless you are from Detroit, pizzas are usually round. Unless you own a hovercraft or are some mad physics genius, wheels are usually round. Do you see the connection here?

Putting those two elements together, pizzas on wheels, could either prove disastrous or insanely delicious. Luckily for us here in Tucson these past seven years, the amazing pizza-centric food truck Ciao Down has proven that it has been most decidedly the latter.

The Snakebite pizza at Ciao Down

The Snakebite pizza at Ciao Down

However, with the soft opening of its first brick-and-mortar happening on Tuesday, November 1, Ciao Down was almost never to be — Gasp! The horror!

Take it easy because we collectively know how this all works out in the end. We, the southern Arizona victorious, are fortunate to be gifted some of the finest and tastiest pizza among any municipality, all in thanks to a man named Paul Reyes.

Pizza fixes everything

Reyes, like most culinary greats, did not set out to cook or make said tasty and fine pies. This man was busy designing microchips. He assured me that the money was great, as it should be. However, he was stuck in a cubicle for most of his days hunched over a computer, using those hands of his to click a mouse and tap keys rather than spinning dough and topping sauce with magnificent ingredients.

When thoughts of escape seeped in, he took a route with Quiznos which, dramatically enough, led to a position working with Fox Restaurant Concepts up in Phoenix before segueing into the fineries of fine dining at the Ritz Carlton.

Paul Reyes of Ciao Down

Paul Reyes of Ciao Down

During this big career move, a friend of his had purchased a food truck and was in the process of fixing it up. “A food truck,” thought Reyes (hypothetically) when his friend approached him asking if he was interested in being a part of his new motorized meal wagon. “You mean a roach coach? No thanks.”

Well as fortunes happen to those who will it, Reyes went to work at the Ritz one day — tired and fed up with the insane hours and backbreaking labor — and literally drove back home. He was done. He was suddenly a man without a job, no income, a hollow shell of what he… “Wait a second,” thought Reyes. “There’s that food truck.”

An illuminated anchovy floated above his head.

“That’s my next move.”

Thing is, the truck in question was designed to bake and serve pizza. It was a pizza truck. Reyes liked pizza, but at the time he liked “pizza” from chain endeavors that shall remain unnamed. Okay, let’s just say if Caesar were a Papa he’d be quite the Noid.

Reyes, being the resourceful chef that he is, then set out to discover the possibilities of what real pizza is, what it could be, and, most valiantly, what it should be.

Like culinary champions of the past, he trudged up that hill rolling the figurative stone of sauce and cheese and reached the pinnacle with a pizza product to appease the masses.

Now, all he needed was a name

This happenstance was a rumor that became a legend and almost morphed into a myth. Reyes and his wife were at a wine festival and while watching a band play, the guy sitting in front of them stood up, excused himself, and said, “Time to chow down.” We thank you, hungry attendee of food and wine festivals, because without you we wouldn’t have one of the best names for a food truck, here or anywhere.

Ciao Down. Get it? Pizza (historically) originated in Italy. Ciao is Italian for…oh, never mind.

The Snakebite pizza at Ciao Down

The Snakebite pizza at Ciao Down

Anyway, in October of 2015, Ciao Down, the newest pizza truck to grace the streets, curbs, parks, parkways, fairs, and fairways across southern Arizona, launched. This bright red beacon of pizza promise was practically an instant success and Reyes knew right then and there he had made the correct decision to leave the resort chef life, especially the microchip devising path, to create pizzas.

Here’s when Tucson Hop Shop enters the story

Around 2017, the almost three-year established spot to consume beer from Arizona and around the world reached out to Reyes, asking if he’d like to be a regular food truck during busy nights. Again, this was a relationship made in the starry beyond as it has been one for over five years. Little did Reyes or anyone in the Metal Arts Village know that a joyful stir was brewing.

Here’s the thing, the Metal Arts Village isn’t really the “Metal Arts Village” anymore. At the time, the previous owner pretty much just wanted metal workers and artists to occupy that corner cul-de-sac, letting the Hop Shop in only because the café that preceded them was just sitting there deserted and waiting. The times, especially post-2020, have changed and that owner has since moved on. When new ownership took over, they were open to having a variety of diverse businesses being a part of the family — all was right with the world.

One such business was just short of climbing aboard but could not commit. That is when the next illuminated pizza topping blipped over Reyes’ head. Maybe, just maybe, Ciao Down could have a permanent location.

This narrative is proof that dreams do indeed come true. Reyes and his pizza are now part of the Metal Arts Village familia and are set up just a few short steps from the Hop Shop’s front door. Signing all the papers and securing the keys, Reyes knew he had to install a proper oven in his new “culinary studio” to properly bake his more than a proper pizza. His search led him to one that uses propane and is custom-built in Italy.

Custom-built oven from Italy at Ciao Down

Custom-built oven from Italy at Ciao Down

Unfortunately, the new space wasn’t equipped for a gas pizza oven custom-built in Italy.

Reyes had to have a trench dug all the way to the street to get the required gas power. It wasn’t a simple task but that’s okay because the oven took a while to get built and delivered. The wait was totally worth it. This oven is a beautiful, broad, copper kiln that’s processing Ciao Down favorites such as The Snakebite, Extreme Supreme, and a new vegan pie inspired by Tucson Foodie’s very own vegan correspondent, Hannah Hernandez. Here’s a sneak peek: a combo of marinated jackfruit and arugula.

New vegan pizza at Ciao Down

New vegan pizza at Ciao Down

Alongside pizza, Reyes will be adding sandwiches and charcuterie boards — keep your eyes and taste buds open and ready for those new additions. Not to mention the herb garden being built out back. Come spring, expect sprigs of bright and flavorful basil, parsley, and, yes, arugula to accentuate an already beyond cravable pie.

Ciao Down’s soft opening is planned for Tuesday, November 1.

There was recently a soft soft opening and I was very lucky to attend. To say that Reyes and his crew got a little crushed is putting it mildly. When word got out that the well-loved pizza truck was now a brick-and-mortar across the courtyard from one of the best beer pubs in the country, they came, they queued, they ordered, and they ate. Reyes took notes of what went right and how to fix the wrongs and on the day after Halloween, it’s go time.

Extreme Supreme pizza at Ciao Down

Extreme Supreme pizza at Ciao Down

The Ciao Down pizza truck will still be in service for events, parties, catering, and such but if you need to get your regular fix, then you need to go about a half block north from the corner of Fort Lowell and Dodge Boulevard.

Full circle. That was the point from the beginning of this article. The slow-moving disc in the new oven, the wheels of the truck, the shape of pepperoni. It’s not just a circular account of life, because pizza is life, but of Reyes’ success from his life and love of pizza.

Ciao Down is located at 3230 N. Dodge Blvd. For more information, visit ciaodownpizza.com and follow Ciao Down on Facebook and Instagram

 

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It was a Sonoran hot dog that made Mark switch from music journalism to food writing when he moved to Tucson from San Francisco in 2006. He hasn’t been the same since.

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