I met with Marc Bianco late on Tuesday morning while customers were just making their way through the doors of Pane Bianco as they opened for lunch. Within moments of greeting me I was in the far back, where their stock of local ingredients resides. I sat at a baker’s table while Marc shared his deep love for the Phoenix community, the science behind baking bread and his dedication to sourcing simply the best ingredients possible.
Who are the owners?
Marc and his brother Chris Bianco, the owner of the Bianco restaurants, grew up in the Bronx watching their mother and aunts make handmade pastas. Marc shared with me how cooking from scratch has always been part of their lives. Although Chris went to the Scottsdale Culinary Institute for 6 months, the two brothers’ most effective training has been through trial and error. Marc is responsible for making the breads and dough for all the Bianco restaurants and he and Chris constantly work together to develop recipes and perfect their product.
Marc hasn’t always baked or even worked in the restaurant industry. In fact, before joining the family business, he had never worked in a restaurant. At the time Chris opened Pizzeria Bianco Marc was still living in New York. He was working as a graphic designer, primarily designing labels for beer and wine. When his brother set the date for opening the restaurant, Marc flew to Phoenix to be the very first customer. He sat in the window in their original location in Heritage Square, was handed a menu, ordered, and became part of history.
After the pizzeria had been open for a few years, Marc’s hands-on involvement with the family business began. He moved to Phoenix and started reaching out to local farmers at a time when local farmers were few and far between. Marc recalled how he would go to a customer’s home to pick peaches from their tree. He recounted another story where he visited an heirloom tomato grower in Tempe to handpick tomatoes for the restaurant while mistakenly wearing a white shirt. When he arrived at the Pizzeria with the delivery, Chris stopped him. His white shirt was now green from picking fresh tomatoes and Chris had him walk through the restaurant with his delivery rather than taking it through the back door. The customers cheered and clapped as he walked through. Moments like this have separated the Bianco’s and have shown their customers first hand the lengths they will go to bring them the best ingredients.
How did it start?
After 6 years of success with Pizzeria Bianco, Chris wanted to open another restaurant. Pane Bianco was born out of two desires. Chris and Marco had spent a great deal of time at Lux Coffee Bar and loved the community that was forming in that neighborhood. They wanted to be apart of it and they wanted contribute to it. They also had a strong desire to open a fast paced lunch spot where you could take items to go or eat lunch on the outdoor communal patio, a spot to enjoy beautiful weather and connect with the community. The location on Central Avenue and Campbell was a no brainer.
When they originally opened, their hours were limited and they only offered food to go, though there was the outdoor patio right outside the restaurant where people enjoyed the sandwiches and was almost always packed while Pane Bianco was open. After functioning this way for nearly a decade, they made plans to expand their location into what used to be Lux’s old location to accommodate indoor seating as well as table service. While completing the expansion they used as much as they could from the original design; you will even find outlets in the floor in their back room from the beauty parlor that was originally in their space. They have kept the bare bones, with Chris still adding his personal touches. Marc tells me how Chris designs all of their restaurants, and how their father’s artwork hangs in each of them. The brothers really have their hands in every small detail and it shows.
As Pane Bianco expanded, so did their original menu. They not only serve the sandwiches and salads they started with, but also their pizzas and what they call their “big plates.” Some of my personal favorites on their menu are their house made mozzarella with local tomato and basil, their sopressata sandwich with aged provolone and wood roasted onions served on their homemade wood fired focaccia bread, or their famous Rosa pizza with red onions, Arizona pistachios, rosemary and parmesan.
The Bianco’s philosophy is clear: Keep things simple and do things well. They do this by having a strong connection to their farmers, many of which even attended Chris’s wedding early this year. By having this connection they are that much more confident in the ingredients they serve. As I sat and chatted with Marc, local vendors and farmers made their way through the back door to deliver produce. They were at home, and that is how they want everyone who comes through their doors to feel.
The Bianco’s success is astonishing. They currently run three Phoenix based locations. One at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix, another at 20th Street and Camelback, Pane Bianco at Central near Camelback, and their location in Tucson that is on its way to opening. In addition to their local locations Chris is involved with Union Jacks, a restaurant he opened with Jamie Oliver with multiple locations overseas. Bianco’s pizza has been awarded the best pizza in the country by Bon Appetit and Rachel Ray. They have been recognized by Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, GQ, Food and Wine Magazine, and Andrew Zimmern for their exceptional recipes. On top of all of this Chris has been awarded the James Beard award for the best chef in the Southwest. We are incredibly lucky to have the Bianco’s restaurants in our home city.
Why we love it!
We love the execution of their philosophy. When I met with Marc, he explained to me the science behind bread baking. He taught me the variables that can make bread change. He explained fermentation times, hydration, different types of flour and how their properties mix and don’t mix, and how important salt and pepper is. It is apparent he loves the science of food and the social aspect of running restaurants.
The quality of their food is exceptional. The Bianco’s dedication to sourcing the best ingredients is equally translated to the best taste and presentation. The wood fired flavor you experience with each sandwich, pizza and baguette is un-paralled to any other I have tasted. Their handmade mozzarella, locally sourced tomatoes, and fresh seasonal toppings make for an experience unlike any other. While their success is world renowned, Bianco’s steady flow of regular local customers plays a large part in their continued success. Their regular customer base proves that their recipes not only impress the food critics, but keep the average Joe returning weekly, if not daily.
Marc tells me that though he’s from New York, he is proud to be in Phoenix because Phoenix is growing and has so much talent. At Firefly we are so happy to have pioneers like the Biancos, who are successful across the world, to bring culture and and the best quality to the Phoenix community.
Hours and Location
Pane Bianco is located at 4404 North Central Avenue in Phoenix. They are open daily for lunch from 11am to 4pm, and for dinner from 4pm to 9pm Monday through Thursday, and for dinner from 4pm to 10pm on Friday and Saturday.
View their website for their other locations hours of operation.
What else is in the neighborhood?
What’s coming up for the Bianco’s?
Stay tuned for the opening of their newest location of Pizzeria Bianco in Tucson near Congress and 5th Avenue this fall. Also keep your eyes peeled for Chris’s cookbook he is co-writing with Gary Nabhan scheduled for publication this fall as well.
Photos by author.
Tags: Andrew Zimmern, Bon Appetit, bread, Chris Bianco, dough, firefly living, FnB, Food and Wine Magazine, Gary Nabhan, GQ, Hot Spot, Jamie Oliver, Local, Lux Coffeebar, Marc Bianco, Martha Stewart, mozzarella, Nobou, Oprah, Pane Bianco, Phoenix, Pizza, Pizzeria Bianco, Rachel Ray, tomato, Tucson, Union Jacks, wheat