Inside the art deco Luhrs Building at the posh Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlor in downtown Phoenix, a pizza joint arrived in April. While patrons mulled over a vast cocktail menu and selections were mixed, shaken, and stirred, Racan Alhoch’s second culinary endeavor Gemini Pizza cranked out 16-inch pies on two-day proofed dough.
But the pop-up, which Alhoch created in March, a month before it took form at Bitter & Twisted, ended its residency in September. Now, it’s onto its next iteration, this time, inside a cloud kitchen in the Melrose District of midtown Phoenix.
Alhoch is known for his noodles via Saint Pasta, his cult-favorite food truck that operated at the Pemberton PHX until it went on a recent break. But at Gemini, it’s all about the pies.
Gemini Pizza will reopen soon inside the Highland Food Hub, a takeout and delivery-only kitchen collective at Seventh and Highland Avenues, with New York-style pizzas. Expect a classic pizzeria lineup with some Middle Eastern flair, Alhoch says. There will be slices, large white pies with mozzarella and ricotta topped with black caraway seeds, mozzarella sticks, and salads including fattoush, a Lebanese dish with torn fried pita bread, greens, grape tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and fresh mint.
The pies are a reminder of Alhoch’s East Coast roots, where as a kid, he skateboarded to one of the three pizzerias in Prospect Park, a small suburb of Paterson City in New Jersey, to grab a slice and meet his friends.
“We didn’t have cell phones back then. So if I wanted to find my friends, I had to skateboard from one pizzeria to the next,” Alhoch says.
The business owner, who is known equally for his brash style on social media as his rigatoni pasta with vodka sauce, is ready for the next chapter in the Gemini Pizza story.
“The pop-up at Bitter & Twisted was a good incubator, I just wanted to take it in a different direction and I needed my own space to do that,” Alhoch says.
Before he moved to Phoenix from New Jersey or opened the now-infamous Saint Pasta, Alhoch had plans for a Jersey City pizzeria. But when those plans fell through at the last minute during a trip to Arizona to see his then-girlfriend and now-wife, he decided to move to the desert instead.
Alhoch had known that a restaurant could be in his future for a long time, he says. His grandfather owned multiple popular eateries in Syria. Growing up, while his siblings played outside, he would step on a stool to help his mother in the kitchen. Alhoch performed small tasks like smashing garlic for toum, a Middle Eastern garlic sauce with some serious kick, and picking parsley for tabbouleh. In high school, he wrote business plans for different restaurants, daydreaming of his future in the culinary realm.
“I thought about opening a restaurant for years. But everyone told me that it was impractical, that it would be so hard to succeed at it,” Alhoch says. “In Middle Eastern culture, you have to become either a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. So I ended up going into restaurant marketing.”
Alhoch learned the business side of restaurants while doing marketing for DoorDash. It only reinforced the desire to open his own spot. Sans the traditional culinary school path, he opened Saint Pasta in early 2019 out of a food truck parked in Tempe.
“My two best friends in New Jersey were both chefs so I’d cook with them, ask questions, and read books. I was able to pick up quite a bit here and there. But I didn’t really start learning until I started Saint Pasta and I was in the kitchen 80 hours a week,” Alhoch said.
The pastry truck eventually relocated to the Pemberton PHX, where it regularly ran out of menu items and attracted enough customers to cause two-hour waits. On Instagram, the small Italian food joint took on a personality all its own. But Alhoch doesn’t take social media too seriously, he says.
“I think everyone in Phoenix thinks I’m an asshole,” he says with a laugh. “But I’m actually really nice and chill.”‘
As he whipped up noodle dishes from a three-by-five foot space in the truck, Alhoch kept the pizzeria in the back of his mind, though New Jersey would no longer be the backdrop.
At the Highland Food Hub, customers won’t be able to see how the magic is made from a double-decker pizza oven inside Kitchen 8, but come late October, they will be able to either pick up their pizza at a window inside the space or order it through delivery services like GrubHub and DoorDash.
It’s the next chapter in Alhoch’s winding journey, from a curious kid, to an assertive pasta maker, and now to an inventive pizzaiolo. And if he has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
“I’m not here to do what anyone else is doing. I’m Arab American, but outside the home, I was always eating Italian food. That will definitely be reflected at Gemini Pizza. And who knows?” Alhoch asks, already making plans to open additional Gemini Pizza locations. “I think it could be bigger than Saint Pasta.”
Gemini Pizza at the Highland Food Hub
Set to open in late October
720 West Highland Avenue