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What’s cooking at USC Village? For starters, the big and bold flavor of Rance’s Pizza

Entrepreneurial alum bakes a successful recipe for a community oriented business set to open this fall

Aaron Tofani
Aaron Tofani, co-founder of Rance’s Chicago Pizza, will open a location at USC Village this fall. (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Aaron Tofani ’11 is clear about one thing when it comes to Rance’s Chicago Pizza: It’s not personal.

“We’re not one of those places where you stand in line and order a custom, personal pizza,” Tofani said. “One of our large pizzas will feed up to eight people. You only need one slice.”

The pizza parlor’s space could be a popular gathering place when it opens this fall at USC Village.

It’s one of several eateries at the $700 million residential-retail complex that will bring new flavors and dining experiences to the neighborhood.

“I want to see big groups of students, talking over pizza,” Tofani said. “We also want the indoor and outdoor spaces to blend together, to get that Southern California feeling.”

Rance’s will face Jefferson Boulevard, along with other shops and restaurants. “We searched long and hard for the right pizza tenant for USC Village,” said Laurie Michelle Stone, USC associate senior vice president for real estate and asset Management. “We wanted something unique and eclectic that delivered big and bold flavors. Rance’s Chicago Pizza hit the mark on all fronts.”

No freezers here

Rance’s is named for Tofani’s childhood friend and business partner, Rance Ruiz. It took the pair years to put together recipes and a business plan that made them successful in a highly competitive segment of the restaurant business.

“I used the research methods I learned at USC Price,” said Tofani, who completed the Master of Real Estate Development program at the USC Price School of Public Policy in 2011. “I used demographic research to figure out what areas were best suited for our product, and I looked at commercial real estate databases to study successful locations.”

USC Village will be Rance’s third location. The first opened in Costa Mesa in 2012. A second location opened in Long Beach’s Belmont Shore district in January.

Tofani had his eye on USC Village years ago when the development was in the planning stages.

I didn’t want to see another fast-casual place. They’re not meant for big groups.

Aaron Tofani

“I knew I wanted to have a store around USC,” Tofani said. “I didn’t want to see another fast-casual place. They’re not meant for big groups. We’re really a community oriented business that likes to bring people together.”

“We don’t have a freezer. The salad dressings are made fresh. For us, it’s all in the details, like premium cheese from Wisconsin. We use tomatoes that are hard to find in our sauce. The seasonings we use are a blend from around the world and we had to track those down.”

Rance’s makes everything from scratch every day and their pizzas take as long as 45 minutes to bake. Slices and take-and-bake pies also will be offered.

Through thick and thin

Customers will have three variations of Chicago style pizza to choose from at Rance’s. Pan style, baked in a seasoned deep-dish pan, has a thicker crust with caramelized cheese around the edges. Rance’s stuffed pizza is richly filled, then covered with a paper-thin, pastry-like crust to seal in flavors. A thinner version, Tavern style, has a crispy texture.

“We like to say crust is a must and sauce is the boss,” Tofani said. “There are very few places that do what we do.”

Tofani expects to start building out Rance’s space at USC Village space in April.

“I can’t wait to see it become a reality,” he said. “You’ll walk in, smell the pizza baking and see people enjoying food together, maybe a group of students working on a project. They’ll be working on their dreams, like I am now.”

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