Megan Lanasa knew she wanted to do something more after starting her food truck, BricknFire Pizza Co., in 2014.
After winning a contest from the hotel giant Marriott Corp., the 29-year-old Catonsville pizza maker is set to formally open BricknFire's first, and only, brick-and-mortar location at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards on Saturday.
The restaurant is in a space accessible from the hotel's driveway outside and lobby inside.
During General Manager Onahlea Shimunek's 15 years at the hotel, the space has been a gift shop, coffee shop, office, and, most recently, a meeting room.
Now, the 850-square-foot space with seating for 20, is Lanasa's restaurant, bearing the same name as her truck.
Her proposal for the casual eatery was among nearly 100 considered in a Marriott-sponsored entrepreneurial contest called Canvas. Judges included
Shimunek, Marriott designers and representatives from the chain's food and beverage team.
Shimunek said a pizza shop was a natural fit. She believes it will bring in foot traffic to the hotel and complement the hotel's other restaurant, The Yard, which doesn't serve pizza.
"A lot of travelers, even if they're from overseas, can relate to pizza," she said. "It's a food group that people understand and enjoy."
In winning the Canvas contest, Lanasa received $75,000 from Marriott to help create her restaurant, and she put in about $75,000. The first six months of rent are free.
Lanasa believes her business will do well in Baltimore. She hopes after six months, when rental rates will be negotiated, she'll be able to stay long-term.
"Personally, there's not many great pizza places in Baltimore," she said. "I'm just trying to be one of the best places you can come for pizza and make this a destination."
Lanasa has been in the restaurant business since she was 14. Her parents own The Breadery in Catonsville.
The hotel menu includes popular offerings from her food truck, including the $12 soppressata pie — an Italian cured meat similar to but spicier than pepperoni — as well as salads and sandwiches. She uses Sparks Glencoe-based Chesapeake Farm to Table and trips to local farmers markets to get fresh and local ingredients, she said.
She describes the pizza style as an Italian-inspired neapolitan, which is typically made with tomatoes and mozzarella. Pies are prepared-to-order and cooked in the shop's brick oven — which heats to 800 degrees — for about 90 seconds.
"We love char here," she said. "It's just a unique style of pizza that I think is up and coming."
A food truck favorite that will be on the menu at the restaurant is the $15 Foodie — a sauceless pizza with prosciutto, Brussels sprouts, crushed walnuts, and a blend of cheeses over an oil and vinegar wash, finished with aged balsalmic vinegar.
"It's a really crazy combination," she said. "It's so light and fresh and very simple, but people have been raving about that pizza."
Canvas is a global program which started in 2015 as a way for renovating underused spaces, according to Dana Pellicano, senior director of restaurants and bars for the Americas for Bethesda-based Marriott. The Baltimore location is the only one in the United States, and while the idea of Canvas will continue, there won't be more corporate contests, she said.
In addition to the funding and access to space, Lanasa recieved mentoring from Marriott in building her restaurant, from the permitting process to marketing. It has been about a year since when she found out she won the contest to its opening day.
"They have all the answers to everything if I need anything. I'm not just by myself," she said. "It's a really great opportunity."