Photography by Jessica Turner.

There’s been an iteration of Sfuzzi in Dallas every decade for the past five decades. It’s the comeback kid that won’t stay down. 

When the original Sfuzzi opened in 1987, now-owners Brandon Hays and Phillip Schanbaum were toddlers. Robert Colombo and his team were operating a boozy pizza and pasta spot on McKinney, frequented by Dallas Cowboys and socialites alike. The upscale Italian concept expanded to 20 restaurants by 1993. 

Then Sfuzzi went bankrupt.  

Colombo moved on to other concepts, like Trece and Villa-O on Knox.      

It was the early 2000s, when Hays and Schanbaum first met while in their early 20s, working the nightclub scene. 

“I think work ethic kind of separates itself pretty quick,” Hays says. “And we both had a mutual respect for each other’s work. And so we looked for a way to work together going into the future.” 

“And then we’ve literally never not worked together since,” Schanbaum says. 

They were working at Suite, a nightclub on Travis in the space that became high-baller favorite Rio Room. Trece and Villa-O were on that same block. That’s where they met Colombo.  

“Robert took notice, and came back and met us, obviously being neighborly. Let me borrow some sugar or whatever the old adage of whatever you need. So there was a relationship there when we were working,” Hays says.

Colombo approached Hays for a partnership opportunity when reopening Sfuzzi on McKinney for the second go-round in 2009. Schanbaum came on as a manager.  

It was their foray into the more stable restaurant business. 

“It was crazy the amount of freedom we were given to design, operate and execute the vision of what it was going to be done,” Hays says.

That 2009 iteration — still a place for pizza and partying — closed in 2013. 

The duo formalized their business relationship with This & That hospitality group. No safety net, no trust fund.

They got busy. They owned Wayward Sons. Their popular Uptown spot So & So’s, a nightlife and brunch staple with an elevated menu concepted by chef Nick Amoriello, operated from 2015-2017. They reconcepted the space into Parlay Sports Club with hospitality group SBBC Hospitium. 

About the same time, for a hot second and unrelated to them, Sfuzzi made a comeback for six months in 2015.

Anyway, This & That opened a slew of neighborhood-centric concepts.

“We love approachable for the masses,” Schanbaum says.

The Whippersnapper, known for reinventing itself into themes like Friends or The Simpsons, is a retro party that doesn’t stop. 

High Fives, next door to The Whip, has a laid-back patio with games and drinks. 

Tiny Victories is a cocktail-forward bar that seats only 40 people. 

Alice, a cozy Miami-vibes concept, features pan-Asian cuisine. 

Ferris Wheeler’s backyard vibes is all about barbecue. (The pair had a friend who knew a guy in New Mexico with a Ferris wheel who needed to get it off his hands. It was an offer they couldn’t pass up. This was also the concept that made them think about hiring general contractors instead of managing from the ground up.)

“We’re doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that. So all of our concepts are different,” Schanbaum says. “We really enjoyed the creation process and being able to take what works in that neighborhood and build something specific.”

The Capitol Pub space on Henderson had been sitting empty since New Year’s 2020.

“We walked in, and it was like a wraparound patio, the U-shaped bar was there. We could see it very easily,” Hays says. “But I think going through Covid, certainly something where that longing for nostalgia came back.”

2022’s Sfuzzi is just east of Central Expressway in the Knox-Henderson area. 

“This was a really important concept. It was our first restaurant. It was also somewhere where we were really excited, ready to get to that next level of our career,” Schanbaum says. “After we started our own company, we were able to go back and restart this brand.”

Former barback Fernanda Roosano has returned to handle the bar menu. The namesake frozen bellini is on the menu. It’s $12 now. The pizza is cooked the same way in the exact same oven. 

“There’s something about just a classic pepperoni pizza the way that we do it in our woodfire. It tastes unlike anything around town,” Schanbaum says. “And tasting it again was awesome. We took notes on all those things that people really loved and missed. And we brought it back.”

There are a lot of parallels between the 2009 rendition of Sfuzzi and this one. It’s in a dense neighborhood with high walkability. The barstools, the leather in the booths and the paint colors are exactly the same. But the place has been modernized. That ’80s cosmo that was replaced by a 2009 vodka Red Bull is now an espresso martini. The menu has new items, like the beef carpaccio.

A third of the visitors are diehard Sfuzzi fans, back for a slice of nostalgia. Another third are neighborhood regulars looking to grab a pizza or have a quick happy hour on their way home. And there are the newbies, now-adults who were too young for the previous versions or freshly minted Dallasites.

“We obviously get the crowd that remembers the brand, but it’s fun to be able to introduce the brand to the new generation that hasn’t seen it,” Schanbaum says.  

The full menu runs to 11 p.m., and then the pizza oven runs until 2 a.m.  The cast of Wicked came in during their production looking for a real meal, since most kitchens don’t operate late. 

“No matter what, we still present the opportunity to have a real dining experience all the way ’til two o’clock in the morning,” Hays says. “We’ve seen that kind of become a niche, that night owl who’s still looking for a meal.”

It’s good food in a fun environment with a touch of sentiment. 

“We want people to be able to come out and enjoy themselves. You can make a pizza at home. But can you come out and enjoy the environment? Have the service, have the experience? That’s what we try to build with all of our concepts, you know, we don’t want it cold,” Schanbaum says. “We want it to be fun.”

Sfuzzi, 2401 N. Henderson Ave.