The faded old gas station near the corner of Auburn Boulevard and Antelope Road doesn't look like much now, but Mercer Tyson sees an opportunity to enter a new fast food frontier.
Tyson plans to open a drive-thru, pizza-by-the-slice business there, capitalizing on the large parking area surrounding the small Citrus Heights building that once housed the gas station cashier. He wants to add outside seating under the canopy where the gas pumps used to be, but for the most part, Tyson intends for California Quick Slice to be drive-thru oriented.
"The basic concept is not to compete with pizza restaurants," he said. It's to compete with drive-thru fast food like McDonald's or Taco Bell.
He said he's worked in real estate and run a few other firms, but he's never owned a food-related business before. The idea occurred to him because he and his son love to get pizza by the slice and drive-thrus are popular.
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"I thought 'What the hell, I'm going to do it,'" he said. "I'm 68 years old now and I'm looking for something new to do."
He plans to have several topping options available each day. The menu has not been finalized, but he suggested a sample menu of a cheese, a meat combo, a pepperoni and a rotating special. Customers can get a hot and fresh slice, or they can buy take-and-bake pizzas of any variety sold, including all of the specials, he said.
"If they can't find one of those that they like, they're not really pizza eaters," Tyson said. "Pizza has always been a business where it's perceived that people... want a custom-fixed and that's what they want, but I don't see it."
The project recently received approval from Citrus Heights' planning commission, and Tyson said he's gotten good feedback after presentations to neighborhood groups in the area. He hopes to have the restaurant up and running by August.
California Quick Slice will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. To cater to the morning crowd, he wants to have a breakfast pizza and coffee options. For the lunch and dinner crowds, he wants to offer mac 'n' cheese and milkshakes alongside the pizza for kids.
"I think it's going to do pretty well," he said.
Others weren't as convinced.
Tyson said he ended up buying the gas station property because he had a hard time finding a landlord who would lease to him. He said building owners were concerned because he isn't opening a franchise, he hasn't been in this line of business before and his idea appears to be mostly untested.
When he first started researching the idea a couple of years ago, he found some Italian restaurants that happened to have drive-thru windows. He also found Simply Slices, an Illinois-based pizza-by-the-slice drive-thru.
Since then, a couple of other people have had similar ideas, including Mad Dash Pizza in Chico, but Tyson feels that he's still on the cutting edge.
At some of the other places, "by the time you get to be the third or fourth car in line, it takes awhile," he said. "I think I'll get (the pizzas) out as fast as a Taco Bell or McDonald's."
Ellen Garrison: (916) 321-1920, @EllenGarrison