Las Vegas native Anthony E. Zuiker has achieved immense success by creating the CSI television franchise, but he’s not stopping there. He also runs the Zuiker Press publishing company with his wife, Michelle, and is an executive producer of the Broadway musical Soul Train. Now, he’s opened a unique pizza concept in collaboration with restaurateur Scott Godino Jr., founder of local favorite Born and Raised.
Fly Pie Pizza’s origin story is one of loss and rebirth. Less than two years ago, Zuiker was at St. Rose Dominican hospital, attending to his mom, Diana. When she died, he went to the nearby Born and Raised bar for food and solace. There, he struck up a friendship with Godino, with whom he shared a similar vision.
Last month, Fly Pie opened on St. Rose Parkway. The drive-thru restaurant, themed as an airport hangar, combines Godino’s operational know-how with Zuiker’s showmanship. While customers wait, they meet a full cast of doughy cartoon characters starring in original animated clips, written by Zuiker. In another audacious move, the clips even have matching scents.
Shortly before the restaurant opened for business, Zuiker sat down with the Weekly to dish on Fly Pie, creativity and CSI’s return to Las Vegas.
With a background in entertainment, why venture into restaurants? All in all, I am still a creator, a writer, a storyteller and a producer. So it’s very easy to make the transition from long-form crime to short-form animation for families, because the same audience that watches my show is the same audience that will eat pizza at this establishment.
It was very refreshing for me to write younger and write more family. I’ve killed people in a million ways on CSI for the past 20 years over 804 episodes. This was quite pleasurable to write for families. And I have children myself, so I totally get it.
Tremblay Bros. Studios—probably best known for Warner Bros.’ Loonatics series—created the animations seen in the Fly Pie drive-thru. Do they get free pizza? Sure. For that kind of work—anything. I mean, the sparkles in [that] sequined dress, the dust over the pool table, all the level of detail. We’re in broad daylight here, right? Imagine when the sun goes down … it’s gonna be eye-popping stuff.
If Godino is teaching you the restaurant industry, are you teaching him how to write? If I’m teaching him anything, it’s how to take big swings when it comes to business, how to be fearless in your vision and the power of what happens when you just go ahead and do without fear. You have something like this. I’m excited to be involved in Born and Raised. There’s tons of potential there beyond what it is. I think you’re gonna see some significant movements in the right direction in that entire franchise, too.
What is your ultimate vision for Fly Pie? We’re gonna open 10 to 12 corporate stores here in Henderson and Las Vegas. We’re going to franchise, most likely, after store three or five. We’re gonna roll out nationwide. When we get to 100 stores, it’s gonna be an interesting conversation. We will definitely be cutting into the bottom lines of a lot of pizza places that are not going to like that we’re down the block, because we have this to offer. We’ll have a plan to disrupt and a plan to be acquired. Whether we sell or take partial, the game plan is to exit.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but you really are a planner. The key—even with CSI—you have to start at the very end. One thing I talk to Scott about is, what does the end look like? The end looks like acquisition. The end for CSI looks like 1,000 episodes, or 809 episodes, as of today. We’ll most likely get to 1,000, if we keep getting renewed. As a creator of a show, you have to start out and go, “What is the vision of this show in the next 20 years?” I hope to get there. And we’re now on Season 17.
CSI, which began its life set in Las Vegas, returns to town with CSI: Vegas this fall. Why bring it back now? We tried to bring it back initially for the 20-year anniversary. We debuted October 6, 2000. COVID hit, so we lost a year. CBS felt like it was a good move to bring it back, especially with the move to [streaming service] Paramount+.
What’s your family connection to Las Vegas? My mother worked at the Stardust Hotel, and my father, before he passed away, was working at the MGM Grand during the fires. He came running out with a bandanna and two lockboxes full of money. … My stepfather opened up the La Vie en Rose, which was the most successful restaurant at the Desert Inn at the time.
Are you working on anything else? I won’t tell you the [production] company, because it’s not official yet, but I’m writing the world’s first X-rated horror movie, about a ventriloquist doll named Peep. Not sexual, but very, very dark. … I had this idea 11 years ago, but I wouldn’t start the movie until I got the doll. Now he lives in our house, and everyone’s scared of it.
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