Reilly Craft Pizza Will Open Across From Poca Cosa

August 29, 2011

By Teya Vitu


Tyler Fenton literally had to wait to grow up to move ahead with Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, slated for the long-closed and long-empty Reilly Funeral Home building at 101 E. Pennington Street.

Ever since his father, Steve Fenton, bought the building at auction in 2007, Tyler had firm visions of an artisan pizza establishment in that 1908 (maybe 1906) structure with exposed brick interior walls, original wood flooring and 14-foot ceilings.

Only problem? He was only 17 back then.

“I was too young to do something at the time,” Tyler Fenton said. “Now the timing is perfect. I wanted to do it since I learned about the building.”

Now Fenton is 21 – just old enough for the & Drink in the establishment name – and, lo and behold, Downtown has undergone quite the renaissance in just the years he reached his majority.

Concurrently, Steve “didn’t find the right mix” in the past four years even though he showed the Reilly building to multiple restaurateurs, all with Tyler waiting and hoping on the sidelines.

“I kept my fingers crossed that they would be come and gone,” Tyler acknowledged. “It’s really a sheer coincidence that (his father is) the landlord. It’s the last great space Downtown.”

Like father, like son, Tyler Fenton follows Steve Fenton’s interview style of keeping his cards close to his chest. The City Council has a Sept. 13 liquor license public hearing scheduled for Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, but Tyler’s not talking opening date or even when construction work or façade improvement work will become evident.

“Hopefully, in the near, near, near future some action is starting there,” Fenton said. “I’m not sure (about what color the building will be painted). We’ve been so focused on the inside. We’re not setting a date yet. I don’t want to jinx it.”

Fenton is more forthcoming when talking about the pizza and interior design.

“We put ‘Craft’ in our name because we wanted to differentiate ourselves,” Fenton said. “We are not a slice kind of place. Our pizza is made with dough that goes into artisan bread. We have very high-quality ingredients. I wanted to do it in a better way than most people know.”

Fenton bypasses the New York vs. Chicago pizza debate, looking more to the northwest.

“Our pizza probably is most similar to a place in Seattle called Serious Pie,” he said, adding that San Francisco influences could be in play and maybe a touch of New York.

Fenton is shooting for upscale casual within a contemporary modern space built around the original brick walls and wood flooring.

“If you went in, you wouldn’t necessarily think you were going into a pizzeria,” Fenton said. “The building is phenomenal inside. To take away any of that character is a sin.”

Fenton is keeping the Reilly name of the former Reilly Funeral Home, which apparently filled the building from the beginning until shutting down in 1990 – “the year I was born,” Fenton noted. He’s well aware but in no way distracted by the jibber-jabber about putting a restaurant into a former funeral home.

“If you went in there not knowing what it was, you would have no idea it was a funeral home,” he said.

Fenton recruited the go-to design team these days for Downtown restaurants. Miguel Fuentevilla and Sonya Sotinsky, the principles in Tucson’s FORS Architecture+Interiors, will give their interior touches to Reilly Pizza as they have applied their “storytelling” to the interiors of DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Drink, HUB Restaurant and Ice Creamery and Borderlands Brewery. They are now designing a new bar slated for Congress and Fifth Avenue, and a restaurant going into 50 E. Broadway between Providence Service Corp. and the recently revived 44 E. Broadway, now home to the Sonoran Institute.

“We try to take every restaurant and build a unique story around their location,” said Fuentevilla, both an architect and an interior designer, as is his wife, Sotinsky. “It’s all about storytelling. We are working with this really, really, really distinct building. We will have a design that is a mix of keeping the historic nature and bringing in a new layer.”

Tyler is the owner/chef of Reilly Pizza, his brother Zach is handling the finances, and his father Steve is the landlord, as he is of the Solar Culture and Arches warehouses and The Academy Lofts.

The Reilly Funeral Home building came into Steve Fenton’s life in July 2007 in an extraordinary confirmation hearing at an estate sale after 11 years of no action from family members.

The day started with a $220,000 offer from developer Warren Michaels. Nearly always that ends the hearing.

The Reilly “auction” ended up drawing the second largest field of bidders that Emery Barker, who represented the Reilly estate, had seen in his 40 years as an attorney. Twelve registered bidders showed up and bids of $450,000 and $465,000 led up to Steve Fenton’s winning bid of $470,000.

Steve Fenton that day said nothing about his plans, and in the years since has said little more than “restaurant” and not finding the right tenant. When asked about leaving the building in the family, he said, “talk to Tyler about that.”

Tyler Fenton is happening upon a very curious maturing of a dense concentration of restaurants at an off-kilter intersection of two tiny streets, Pennington Street and Scott Avenue.

Reilly Pizza may just give the critical mass to create Downtown’s, may even all of Tucson’s, most tightly packed set of dining popular options with Café Poca Cosa, 47 Scott, Alejandro’s, Café 54, and perhaps the finishing touch with whatever fills the recently vacated Dizzy G’s.

It could just be worth a name of some sort, maybe even a lighted display, maybe something over the intersection. It’s a dining haven with a built-in garage: The Pennington Street Garage.

“We’re building our own culinary center,” Tyler Fenton said. “I actually love being off Congress. I think the garage is a major selling point for our culinary center.”