Oven fresh 

Empire Slice House moves down the street but keeps its original recipe.

click to enlarge Visitors familiar with the aesthetics of the old Empire Slice House location will find many familiar touches in the new restaurant. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Visitors familiar with the aesthetics of the old Empire Slice House location will find many familiar touches in the new restaurant.

Housed in the 16th Street Plaza District since 2013, Empire Slice House closed the doors at 1734 NW 16th St. and reopened Sept. 26 just a few doors down at 1804 NW 16th St. In its new and more spacious home, the popular New York-style pizzeria is planning a better way to service the dedicated customers who have remained loyal to the business since its founding.
click to enlarge Rachel Cope, founder and CEO of 84 Hospitality Group, wanted to maintain the style and ambiance of the original Empire Slice House for the new location. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Rachel Cope, founder and CEO of 84 Hospitality Group, wanted to maintain the style and ambiance of the original Empire Slice House for the new location.

Empire Slice’s owner, Rachel Cope, was working for different restaurants around the metro before she decided to open a shop of her own. Dissatisfied with what she believed to be a city with abundant potential for eclectic eateries, Cope realized something needed to change.

“When I was waiting tables, I realized there were really only two restaurants open after 10 p.m. with full service,” she said. “I wanted to try and create my own based on a lot of things I had experienced and seen that I felt were lacking here.”

Cope, founder and CEO of 84 Hospitality Group, leapt into the food scene with a store unlike anyone would expect to find in the heart of the city.

The result: a pizza shop brimming with its own flavor and style. Beaming with vibrancy and local flare, the restaurant truly is “like Frank Sinatra and David Bowie had a pizza baby,” as its website describes.

Move on up

However, if Empire Slice hoped to keep up with the rising demand, a change was in order. With the lease on its original site coming to an end, Cope decided to move her store to a more functional location. In July 2017, she began negotiating the shop’s new site.

One thing was certain: Given the choice, she was not leaving the Plaza District.

“I always pay homage to Home Slice Pizza in Austin, Texas, because I loved the vibe of South Congress Street (where it’s located) and felt like the Plaza had the same vibe,” Cope wrote to Oklahoma Gazette.

Still, she wanted input from her team at Empire in materializing a new space that would be both welcoming and efficient.

The new layout includes a much larger patio, more space in the bathrooms and two additional ovens. In addition, 35 seats have been added to better accommodate the shop’s clientele. Easy E Slice Shop, Empire Slice’s sister store, serviced customers during the four days Empire was closed to ensure a smooth transition to the updated location.     

click to enlarge The new Empire Slice House at 1804 NW 16th St. features expanded seating outdoors. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • The new Empire Slice House at 1804 NW 16th St. features expanded seating outdoors.

Kyle Smith, general manager at Empire Slice, recounted the early days when the shop quickly descended into chaos. Hungry customers would crowd in, seeking shelter from the rain or cold weather outside, eagerly anticipating a hot meal fresh from the Empire kitchen.

Due to the building’s layout, employees would often have to venture through the entire restaurant, taking care to avoid running into folks on the way, just to carry out basic tasks. To address the issue, the kitchen and bar have essentially switched places in the new location.      

“It was very difficult for servers to get through,” Smith said. “So it will just be way smoother whenever it comes to running a shift. I think it’ll be nothing but positive changes for sure.”

Those concerned about losing the atmosphere of the pizza shop they have come to know and love are discouraged from worrying. Aside from a few upgrades in space and efficiency, Empire shouldn’t feel too different.

In fact, Cope made it a point to keep the original ambiance.

“The identity we’ve created with Empire is something we refuse to lose. The new space will smell the same, feel the same — and when you’re listening, it will sound the same,” Cope said in a press release.

Smith confirmed the plans to maintain the spirit of the old shop.

“Everything is fresh and new and clean, but it’s still our same vibe,” he said. “It’ll feel like home whenever people walk in.”

Chefs, management and other employees transferred to the new store. Smith doesn’t anticipate too many changes to his daily routine, either.

“Our hope is that it will continue to serve as a gathering place for OKC for years to come,” Cope said.

Packing the pachyderm

Those unfamiliar with Empire might recognize Ellie, the pink elephant that sits by the shop’s front entrance. Cope purchased Ellie at a resale shop in New York City, having “had no idea how iconic she’d become for our brand.”    To some, she’s more valuable than all the pizzas Empire has to offer. When Ellie was stolen not long ago, she was returned the following day, but local news outlets weren’t wasting any time. Before the thief had a chance to give her back, tales of the missing pink elephant had already spread like wildfire.

Customers have since been on the lookout for any signs of another great elephant heist.

“One time, Rachel’s dad was actually driving through Nichols Hills with one of the new [elephants],” Smith said. “Someone called me and they asked, ‘Oh my God! Did Ellie get stolen? I just saw her in the back of a truck driving through Nichols Hills if you want me to follow them.’”

click to enlarge Ellie the Elephant is still a fixture at the new Empire Slice House location. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Ellie the Elephant is still a fixture at the new Empire Slice House location.

Despite being a false alarm, there aren’t too many pizza joints catering to customers concerned with the wellbeing of an inanimate elephant.

But unique décor isn’t all Empire has to offer. Open until 2 a.m., except Sundays when it closes at midnight, customers can expect 20-inch pizzas and a seemingly endless supply of canned beer.

“The pizza is amazing,” Smith said. “You’d think that I would be tired of it by now eating [it] every day, but I still eat it.”

The shop showcases pizzas with names like Notorious P.I.G. while preserving a ’90s hip-hop vibe, and it’s no wonder the shop has achieved a sort of cultlike status. Steadily rising in popularity over the years, Cope and her team successfully managed to secure Empire Slice a spot on the list of Oklahoma City favorites.

“It’s been a joint effort on the management side for sure,” Smith said. “We just want to make things easier and quicker and just make sure that people are happy.”

Visit empireslicehouse.com.
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