Pizza Today - August 2018 - 46

a Pizza Today visit to Empire in late
spring. "When you walk in, what do
you hear, what do you smell, what do
you see, how does it feel?"
With lines out the door, Empire has
captured a tremendous following in
Oklahoma City (OKC) and beyond.
This year, the pizzeria made The Daily
Meal's "Best Pizza in Every State" and
the Food Network's "Best Pizzas in
America's Biggest Cities".
Empire Slice House is poised to
break into the Top 50 on Pizza Today's
Hot 100 Independent Pizzerias list in
2018. With a staggering $3.9 million in
gross annual sales with its single unit,
the pizzeria ranked No. 58 in 2017, up
seven spots from 2016. In the past year,
Empire has added a sidekick slice shop
and broke ground on its new home.
Empire's momentum and
entrepreneurial drive have earned the
slice house Pizza Today's coveted 2018
Independent Pizzeria of the Year. At
33 years old, Cope is the youngest
operator to receive the honor and is the
second woman to helm an Independent
of the Year pizzeria.
"It's been a wild ride," Cope says. "I
think it's grown so much more than we
ever imagined. We also get to be a really
cool hang out spot for people in the area."
The uptown pizzeria has built
a loyal following in OKC. Its fan base
has even found a permanent way to
show allegiance to the pizzeria. Sixtyfive people and counting have one of
four custom Empire tattoos through a
partnership with a neighboring tattoo
shop, granting them half off pizza for
life. An "I Love You" mural, once part
of marriage proposal, has become an
Instagram destination for couples.
Cope knew they had a hit on their
hands when beloved Ellie the Elephant
was stolen in year one, causing
community uproar. News broadcasts
and viral social posts demanded Ellie's
return. "She's become quite the icon,"
4 6 / P I Z Z AT O D AY. C O M / A U G U S T 2 0 1 8

Cope says, adding that she reappeared
in her usual place the next morning.
Cope's vision for Empire can be
traced to her backstory. She grew up
an athlete in East Tulsa and dominated
the softball field, earning her a spot
on Oklahoma City University's
championship softball team. She
waited tables at casual restaurant chains
around the city during school.

Rachael Cope, co-founder and
CEO of 84 Hospitality

A server position at an Oklahoma
City independent pizzeria gave her
a first glimpse into an appealing
ownership structure. "That was the first
restaurant to work at where I really
got to see a manager and staff make
decisions on the owner's behalf, instead
of 'this is the rule book,'" she says.
A winning tenacity she gained from
athletics carried into a decade-long
career in the restaurant industry. But
managing someone else's vision wasn't
enough for Cope. She was ready to take
everything she had learned and create a
concept and culture based on her ideas
and values.
"I'm super competitive," she says.
"I've played sports my entire life. I don't
really have that bone in me that says
I'm ever going to fail. I realize we might
stumble at some point, but I know
there is a solution."

Fateful
Beginnings
"Call me. I'm going to change your
life," Cope wrote to Cannon. That
fateful text message to her friend and
chef set Empire into motion. She
had heard about a contest to pitch
a restaurant to occupy a closed coin
laundry, where Empire now resides.
Their original European café pitch
made the top five but wasn't selected.
Shortly after, Cope visited Austin's
Home Slice Pizza. "I was sitting at
Home Slice for the first time and I was
just looking at the area and the vibe and
I was like 'we should have done this,'"
she says.
Luckily for Cope and Cannon,
the winning pitch fell through. The
landlords approached Cope about
other visions they may have for the
space. "We want to do pizza by the
slice, whole pies, full bar," she said. The
landlords agreed to do some tastings
with the pair. One problem: neither
Cope nor Cannon had pizza-making
experience. After researching and
testing dough recipes, they presented
their menu to the landlords with a less
than favorable response to the pizza.
But, the landlords liked Cope and
Cannon and gave them more time to
develop their pizza recipe.
Cope went back to the drawing
board, looking for dough formulas.
"We'll figure it out" is such a common
thread that Cope jokes about getting
a tattoo of the motto. She noticed
that Mike Bausch, owner of a popular
Oklahoma pizzeria, Andolini's,
attended a pizza school in San
Francisco taught by World Pizza
Champion Tony Gemignani. Fate
stepped in again, Cope says, when she
jumped at an immediate opening in the
New York-style American class.
Armed with a new dough recipe,


http://www.PIZZATODAY.COM

Pizza Today - August 2018

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Pizza Today - August 2018

Pizza Today - August 2018
Commentary
Contents
Contributors
Expo Spotlight
Interact
Conversation
Man on the Street
Tony’s Trending Recipe
At Your Service
Destinations
Knead to Know
Road to Ppne ‘18
2018 Independent Pizzeria of the Year: Empire Slice House, Oklahoma City, Ok
Product Showcase
Pizza Today Yellow Pages
The Marketplace
Reader’s Resource
Mike’s Monthly Tip
Pizza Today - August 2018 - CT1
Pizza Today - August 2018 - CT2
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Pizza Today - August 2018
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Cover2
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Commentary
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 4
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 5
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 6
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 7
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Contents
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 9
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Contributors
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 11
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Expo Spotlight
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 13
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Interact
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 15
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Conversation
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 17
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Man on the Street
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 19
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Tony’s Trending Recipe
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 21
Pizza Today - August 2018 - At Your Service
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 23
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Destinations
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 25
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Knead to Know
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 27
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 28
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 29
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 30
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 31
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 32
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 33
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 34
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 35
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 36
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 37
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 38
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 39
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 40
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 41
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Road to Ppne ‘18
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 43
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 2018 Independent Pizzeria of the Year: Empire Slice House, Oklahoma City, Ok
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 45
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 46
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 47
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 48
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 49
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 50
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 51
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Product Showcase
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 53
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 54
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Pizza Today Yellow Pages
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 56
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 57
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 58
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 59
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 60
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 61
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 62
Pizza Today - August 2018 - The Marketplace
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 64
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 65
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 66
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 67
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 68
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 69
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 70
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 71
Pizza Today - August 2018 - 72
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Reader’s Resource
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Mike’s Monthly Tip
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Cover3
Pizza Today - August 2018 - Cover4
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