"Sammy is probably the only fifth-grader with a pizza restaurant named after him," Royce jokes.it closed last June.
"She just popped her head in here one day, and I've never met anybody more passionate about pizza. I think God just sent her in here," Royce says.
The pizza, which features sauce to the edges, is the focus of the menu that has salads, sandwiches, pasta, and appetizers such as wings, toasted ravioli and cheesy garlic bread. Royce is proud of the meatballs that will be made in-house, revealing only that they're seared in red wine and made of 2/3 ground beef and 1/3 pork. For those with food allergies, Sammy's also offers a gluten-free crust and nut-free basil pesto, two of the only products not made in-house.
"The pizza is a neo-Neapolitan crust. It's not New York-style because you can't fold it. It stays firm, like a puffy pretzel on the end," Royce says.
The veteran of the local restaurant industry actually got his start in pizza at Ken's Pizza in Tulsa. He was a dishwasher in high school and continued working there until he graduated with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration from Oklahoma State.
His career with the Lone Star Steakhouse chain brought him to Kansas City when he was sent to help open the location at 6501 N.W. Barry Road. He left Lone Star to become the chef at Canyon Cafe (where the 810 Zone is now located) on the Plaza in 1996. Five years later, Royce was part of a local ownership group that purchased the restaurant chain.
"I'm a foodie at heart. I've always been in the front and the back of the house," Royce says.
"The way Kansas liquor laws work, I would not have been able to secure a liquor license as a franchisee," Royce explains, "So this is the way it was supposed to be."
Zepi's kitchen was set up for pizza production, so Royce focused on the dining room and bar. There are three distinct seating areas, including a game room in back, with seating for 150 people. When the weather improves, Sammy's has an additional 24 chairs on the patio. At the bar, Sammy's has six taps — four dedicated to Boulevard (Pale, Wheat, seasonal and Tank 7), Bud Light and Tallgrass' Buffalo Sweat. Royce is also a bourbon and rye enthusiast — Knob Creek and Baker's are a few in the rotating stock of spirits.
"I want to treat everybody like family. I believe that service doesn't end until the guest gets in the car. I know what brings people back to a restaurant, and I think we've got the whole package," Royce says.
Sammy's Pizza & Pub is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m Friday and Saturday. Royce says he'll keep the bar open until 1 a.m. if people want to stay.