A new pizzeria quietly opened its doors this month on the outskirts of an equally quiet East Long Beach neighborhood. Inside, the smell of rising dough, melting cheeses and Italian meats fills the small space that pays homage to the nostalgia of classic mom ‘n’ pop pizza parlors.

Owned and operated by five Long Beach locals, Ottimo Pizzeria opened its doors on Feb. 2 in the Time Square retail center and has already been well-received by the community.

“There are a lot of food options over here but what goes best with beer?” co-owner Ciaran Gough asked, noting that Steady Brew Beer Co. also resides in the small center. “Pizza.”

The restaurant industry is not new to Gough. He and Ottimo co-owners Juan Carlos Guerra and Todd Miller also own The 908, an upscale sit-down restaurant at the Long Beach Exchange two miles from the new eatery.

Opening of the restaurant took over a year from inception, Gough said. In that time, the co-owners put in leg work to formulate the menu. They traveled to and ate at countless pizza joints in the region, even going as far as taking a trip to New York City.

After scarfing down their research over several months, they nailed down their menu.

A row of pizzas wait for the oven at Ottimo Pizzeria Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The pizzeria serves 14-inch Neapolitan-style pies using hand-tossed dough and sauces made in-house, along with low-moisture mozzarella, Italian meats and other fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Ottimo’s menu features the standard cheese, pepperoni, meatball and margherita pizzas but also some more creative fare. The Fungi, for example: alfredo sauce, mozzarella, shiitake and button mushrooms, ricotta, parmesan, green onions and ranch. Or the Kalua Pork—mozzarella, house-made barbecue sauce (with a pepper kick), pulled pork, bacon, pepperoni, crispy garlic, chili flakes and oregano.

In all, Ottimo has eight pizza options ranging from $16 to $22. The restaurant also offers three salads—Caesar, baby arugula and Caprese—for $8 each.

But the most flamboyant items on the menu, by far, are the dessert pizzas. For $12, customers can satiate their sweet tooth with a mozzarella-banana-cinnamon-sugar pizza or a Nutella-strawberry-powdered sugar ensemble.

Powdered sugar is added to the banana dessert pizza at Ottimo Pizzeria in East Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

“We wanted to start with [this menu] as our base and then we can expand from there,” Gough said. “The goal is to get it down, make sure the guests that are coming in are happy with the product, make sure you get consistency and then see what people are looking for.”

Based on feedback and reception in the coming months, Gough said the menu may be extended with more pizza sizes and recipes, additional salads and maybe even sandwiches.

Ottimo does not serve beer, or any alcohol for that matter, but the team of owners is using Steady Brew to its advantage (it doesn’t hurt that co-owner Marissa Textor’s husband is a co-owner of the brewery). Eventually Steady customers will be able to order pizza from Ottimo while at the brewery. The pizzeria’s staff will then carry it across the parking lot to the famished beer connoisseurs.

The planned partnership with the beer brewer helped inform the Ottimo menu, according to Gough. The group came up with a menu that they thought “complimented what they’re doing over there with beer styles,” he said.

Stacks of pizza boxes at Ottimo Pizzeria in East Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

When it came to deciding on a name, co-owner Mike Salvanera said a few ideas were tossed around. Including East Side Pizza.

“But when you think ‘east side,’ you could also think of East Side New York pizza and we’re nowhere near New York-style pizza,” Salvanera said. “But ottimo in Italian means excellent and we’re just trying to make excellent pizza.”

Walking in the front door, customers’ eyes are instantly drawn to the large, red pizza oven in the open-air kitchen area, which allows anyone to watch cooks toss dough into the air, slather on sauces, place cheese and toppings and slide the raw pizzas into the oven.

Carlos Garcia tosses pizza dough into the air at Ottimo Pizzeria Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The interior design is simple and elegant with checkerboard tile work on the walls accompanied by fresh white paint.

“I feel like a lot of the great pizza I’ve had has been in mom-and-pop shops that are cute and cozy,” said Textor, who designed the interior. “You walk in and you get that good, warm feeling. I wanted to stick to those traditional patterns but flip it on its head, make it fun and a little more modern and elevated.”

“It’s clean, sharp and crisp,” she added. “Hopefully that carries over to the food and the whole experience is excellent.”

There are no tables in the small space yet but there will be a few eventually, Textor said. But with the shared outdoor dining area in the center’s parking lot and serving patrons at the brewery, onsite dining shouldn’t be an issue, she noted.

The first week and a half of service has been great, Gough said. As expected for a new restaurant, some days are better than others, but despite no public announcement of the opening, he said there was a line of customers on day one simply because of the retail center’s continuous foot traffic, mostly locals from nearby neighborhoods on walks or bike rides.

David Salvatierra puts a pizza in the oven at Ottimo Pizzeria in East Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Over time, as the pizzeria adds hours, Gough said the size of the staff will grow in tandem. Once the operation is fully ramped up, he said he expects to have 20 employees, all of which will share in the tips.

“People tip on to-go—maybe it’s not quite as much as sit-down but it’s still very good,” Gough said. “So that really helps us get a reputation as a place where you can make good money. Then you’ve got great people—and your business is a lot easier to run when you’ve got talented people working for you.”

Ottimo does not have its own delivery driver and has no plans to hire one, Gough said. However, the restaurant’s pies can be ordered via GrubHub and other delivery services. The Ottimo owners were able to negotiate good rates from the services, allowing them to retain a worthwhile profit margin, Gough explained.

Time Square has experienced a renaissance over the past several years. The property was remodeled and now features Mexican food at long-time staple Baja Sonora, sandwiches and baked goods at the Coffee Parlor, Chinese food at Yang Chow 2.0 and beer at Steady.

“There’s plenty of room for all,” Gough said. “Nobody’s really in competition—we all have different things … and will all rise together.”

“We want to just keep growing and be here for a long time,” Textor added. “I think it’d be great to have the kids that come here now bring their kids here one day.”

Ottimo Pizzeria is located at 2938 Clark Ave. and is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 4-10 p.m. and Sundays 4-8 p.m.

David Salvatierra tosses a pizza crust at Ottimo Pizzeria in East Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.
A pizza crust is covered with cheese at Optimo Pizzeria Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.
David Salvatierra checks on a pizza in the oven at Ottimo Pizzeria in East Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.
An employee chops ingredients to finish up a pie at Ottimo Pizzeria in East Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.