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Photos by Asia Morris. Co-owner Aaron Tofani pulling out a slice of the Rance’s Favorite.

Rance’s Chicago Pizza celebrated its grand opening on Saturday by offering 50 percent off their pizzas, and also donating 50 percent of those sales to community activist Justin Rudd’s Community Action Team (CAT), a local nonprofit always striving to improve Long Beach through a variety of events, including the recently held town hall on how to help Long Beach’s homeless. The new restaurant has been soft opened for about six weeks.

Owners Aaron Tofani and Rance Ruiz, who met in the third grade, view giving back to the Belmont Shore, and greater Long Beach community as a no brainer, a way to contribute to the happenings in an area they chose for that quintessential Long Beach big-city, little-town feel. Tofani, who lives in the shore and likes to ride his skateboard to work, runs the business-side of the restaurant while Ruiz is the pizza-making fanatic.

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“It’s hard to find really good deep-dish pizza in the west coast, so people come from all over, from San Diego to Riverside County to LA County, to [visit] our store in Orange County,” said Tofani. “So we thought […] well, we draw from a wide enough region that it’s far enough away from our Costa Mesa store. And then combine that with how much we love [this] area […] it just felt like it was meant to be.”

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The 2nd Street pizzeria is the duo’s second location. And while they opened their first and smaller location in Costa Mesa in 2012 to rave reviews, Tofani and Ruiz have made Belmont Shore their home base, quite literally. Two months ago Tofani moved to the area and Ruiz lives here, too. And the two are proud to bring their deep dish pizza back to a building that the community already knows for its pie-producing history.

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The new owners said the building has a 40-plus year legacy of pizza prowess. Not only was BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery a deep dish pizza staple in the area—it closed in 2014 and was replaced by The Shore Public House—but before that, Lynn Perry’s Pizza served locals in the 60s and 70s, according to passersby eager to share the space’s story.

Now Rance’s Chicago Pizza is seeking to distinguish itself as a community joint, a place where you can sit down and relax, compared to the “get-it-and-go” types of places in the area, said Tofani.

“There are places that offer pizza, but not like a real pizza where you can [sit] down and all get a pie and share it,” Tofani said. “It’s all about community and bringing people together.”

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Three styles of pies—stuffed, pan and tavern—are offered at Rance’s and are made from scratch with fresh ingredients daily, including the dressings. While the stuffed pie takes about 45 minutes to cook, from start to finish, Tofani sees it as just enough time to fill with appetizers, maybe a couple beers, and good conversation. Newly renovated as a community hangout, Tofani said the restaurant hosted the entire Long Beach State water polo team the other day, saying, “we are all about big community tables and groups.”

Rance’s also offers deep dish pizza by the slice for lunch from 11:00AM to 4:00PM, Italian appetizers such as meatballs and marinara, garlic cheese sticks, artichoke dip and bruschetta topped with diced tomatoes, garlic pesto, feta cheese and sliced red onions. Salads include the Caesar, spinach, caprese, antipasto and house. The bar offers 30 beers on tap and a variety of wines.

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Exclusive to the Long Beach location will be wings and sandwiches, set to be served in March. Ruiz boasts three “really awesome” wing sauces that he’s making from scratch, which is one of the reasons those menu items have not been offered just yet, because “he’s a perfectionist when it comes to food,” said Tofani, further adding to the restaurant’s mission to focus on quality, not quickness.

Also unique to the space is a striking mural by artist and friend Eric Gordon, titled Downtown Long Beach: A Scene From the Queen Mary, that covers one entire wall, while Tofani’s sister, Sarah, also an artist, painted multiple panels upon request for “an illuminati pizza slice” and also created the chalkboard lettering. A family friend, Chris McNeal, painted the Rance’s logo on the brick wall.

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Looking forward, once they have three locations up and running, the two are considering selling Ruiz’s dressings, which are made in-house every day, as well as other merchandise. Rance’s Chicago Pizza just signed a deal for their third location to be the exclusive pizza-serving business at the University of Southern California’s new University Village. But, they’re not planning on moving away from the city anytime soon.

“We’re super proud to be part of Long Beach,” Tofani said.

For more information about Rance’s Chicago Pizza, visit the Facebook page here.

Rance’s Chicago Pizza is located at 5258 East 2nd Street.

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Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].