Owners Rance Ruiz and Aaron Tofani

Rance's Chicago Pizza owners Rance Ruiz and Aaron Tofani. 

Long Beach residents don’t have to go 2,000 miles for a deep-dish pizza.

Instead, the International City is offering an authentic taste of the Windy City’s flavor at Rance’s Chicago Pizza in Belmont Shore. The newest Second Street business is open now.

Owners Rance Ruiz and Aaron Tofani of Belmont Shore, both 35, created their first pizzeria in Costa Mesa nearly four years ago, and said it was time to expand the business by adding on a second, larger storefront.

Ruiz, a pizza expert, handles the food and operations; Tofani, who studied business and real estate, handles the bookkeeping; together, they’ve built two restaurants, and they said they believe they make a great team.

“We’ve been best buds since the third grade,” Tofani said about the lifelong relationship shared with a business partner he first met at Little League practice.

Ruiz, who tried Chicago-style pizza at a young age and fell in love with it, said he always wanted to open a pizza place, and pulling that off has truly been a family and friend effort.

“Everything has really come together,” Ruiz said.

Rance’s Chicago Pizza took over the vacancy left by Shore Public House, and before that BJ’s Pizza, at 5258 E. Second St., a location that its new occupants said has a long history of serving up pies.

They remodeled the space themselves, installing nine flat-screen televisions, maintaining the exposed brick and ceiling rafters, and commissioning muralist friends to paint elaborate images of the Long Beach skyline. It’s a welcoming environment, with communal seating and an open patio.

Other paintings inside the restaurant were designed by Tofani’s sister, who created colorful and comical images of King Kong eating a pie, an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a dripping slice, and even an astronaut reaching for pizza in space.

Happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, where customers can enjoy $2 off beer and wine purchases while they wait for whole pizzas made from scratch. It takes about 45 minutes for a deep-dish pie to cook, but Rance’s also sells individual slices for those who need faster service.

Adjusting to a larger, full-scale restaurant, as compared to their small Costa Mesa location, has been a challenge, they said, just weeks after opening, but they said they are working out the kinks and hiring the best team they can.

“We are two young dudes figuring it out,” Tofani said. “We aren’t a big polished company, but we really hope that this becomes the home base for future expansions.”

For Ruiz in particular, owning a pizza place — especially one that has garnered honors such as a Golden Foodie Award — is the realization of his American Dream.

“It’s really been his lifelong dream,” Tofani said. “… He always wanted to open a restaurant.”

Ruiz emphasized that everything he makes is fresh, nothing is frozen, and the flavors are authentic to the region because he’s studied deep-dish pizza and orders some ingredients straight from the Chicago area. Also, the business boasts a special, revolving oven that allows him to cook 60 pizzas at a time with an even application of heat.

“You have to have a big oven because deep-dish requires such a long bake time,” Ruiz explained, noting that the restaurant offers dine-in and carry-out service, but not delivery.

“A true deep-dish pizza is a relatively rare concept in Southern California,” he said. “We’re really presenting this to the region, and we have to educate our customers about it because they aren’t used to that flavor profile or the 45-minute cook time.”

Ruiz emphasized that deep-dish pizzas have a flaky, pastry-style crust and the pizzas really resemble pies because of their thickness and weight — a large, 14-inch pie is about 2 inches deep and weights about 6 pounds. It’s easier to eat with a knife and fork than with your hands.

“Chicagoans in here recognize that this is authentic,” he said. “For others who haven’t tried it before, this is a food adventure.”

Ashleigh Ruhl can be reached at ashleighruhl@gmail.com.

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