Pizza place prides itself on standing out from the crowd

By Maura Wery

Around nine years ago, Ryan Murphy had the radical idea to turn a Kansas farming staple —- wheat —- into a pizza crust.

“There were few pizza places that had done that,” Murphy said. “There was a niche in the market and it needed to be filled.”

Murphy had extensive background working in chain pizza restaurants such as Gambinos, Papa Johns and Dominos. He liked the idea of fast-made pizza, but disliked the limitations imposed by white pizza crust, canned sauce, pepperoni and sausage.

“I felt like there was something more to pizza than that,” Murphy said.

So he decided to cash in on his idea and created the first Wheat State Pizza in Lawrence in 2004. It featured a homemade wheat and white crust made in house with both regular and premium toppings.

Fast-forward a bit, and he is now the franchisor of the newly opened Wheat State Pizza in Manhattan. Along with his owner and partner, Paulson Yeh, he couldn’t be happier to switch gears and be in The Little Apple.

“I feel like it’s the perfect American town,” Murphy said. “It has an awesome Division I college and it just fits for Wheat State.”

Murphy said Wheat State has a “great location and great neighbors.” The pizza place also prides itself on something most pizza places don’t always push for: Being distinct.

“There is always a handful of pizza places around,” Murphy said “We want to be the best and we want to set that bar for ourself.”

How they become that starts with the base: The crust. Wheat State is known for its homemade wheat crust.

“It’s almost like a homemade wheat bread that your mom or grandmother would make,” Murphy said. “The aroma sells itself.”

Wheat State also features a regular white crust, wheat thin crust–-a lower carb and calorie version of the wheat crust–-and a gluten free crust made with tapioca and rice. Murphy said that they also make their red sauce in house and feature a range of choices in sauces, including cream cheese, pesto, olive oil, barbecue and hot sauce. Customers also have a choice between regular milk cheese and vegan, non-dairy cheese. To top it all off, there are more than 30 different toppings.

“Wheat State was created to think outside the box of traditional pizza,” Murphy said. “We try to trump everything our competitors do. They have their niches, but we have ours.”

One of those is keeping pizzas affordable. Murphy said their pizzas run from a 10-inch small at $9.99 to a 16-inch extra-large at $18.99.

“Gourmet doesn’t have to mean expensive,” Murphy said. Along with their prices, they run different specials each week, such as $3 off an extra large or $2 off any specialty, to stay competitive.

Murphy said Wheat State does more than just pizza. It also creates sandwiches, calzones and a large menu of appetizers. The business has had great success in the two-weeks it’s been open. Murphy said that they have been very busy and the hope is their success will go even further.

“We have a great crew and everything is working out great,” Murphy said.

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