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At Mr. Roni Cups, a pivot to pizza (and chicken and sushi too)

The restaurateurs behind O Ya and Hojoko were about to open a new place in March. Things look different now.

The Roni Cups pizza at Mr. Roni Cups, a takeout stand inside the restaurant Bianca on The Street in Chestnut Hill.
The Roni Cups pizza at Mr. Roni Cups, a takeout stand inside the restaurant Bianca on The Street in Chestnut Hill.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

In March, Tim and Nancy Cushman presided over a burgeoning restaurant empire: three branches of the acclaimed O Ya, in Boston, New York, and Mexico City; Hojoko, Gogo Ya, and Ms. Clucks Deluxe Chicken & Dumplings in the Fenway; and several other concepts in New York. They were readying to open their latest, Bianca at The Street in Chestnut Hill, when coronavirus shut everything down.

“We are that restaurant statistic,” says Tim Cushman. “We are down from nine to three.” They plan to reopen Hojoko Sept. 16, with generous al fresco seating and a greater emphasis on takeout. O Ya, an intimate space downtown, presents a challenge for social distancing, and a date for its return hasn’t yet been set. And Bianca has done a pandemic pivot, from a full-service restaurant with pizza on the menu to a pizza-focused concept that opened Aug. 20. Located inside Bianca, with outdoor seating beneath brightly colored umbrellas, it is called Mr. Roni Cups.

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Half wood-fired rotisserie chicken at Mr. Roni Cups.
Half wood-fired rotisserie chicken at Mr. Roni Cups.Lane Turner/Globe staff

“I think our staff thought we were kidding,” says Nancy Cushman of the name. Tim Cushman came up with it. He even had a vision for a logo: a walking pepperoni wearing a jaunty pizza hat. “It was back before COVID, and right now it’s such a smile. We have stickers we give out to kids,” Nancy says.

The name might make you laugh, but the Cushmans are very serious about pizza, which has long been an obsession of theirs. (When they go out for sushi, they get pizza for dessert.) Mr. Roni Cups serves Roman-style pizza al taglio, square slices and pies made in a Moretti Forni oven; the dough is fermented for 48 hours. Tim Cushman learned to make this style pizza from mentors Massimiliano Saieva of the Roman Pizza Academy in Miami and Luigi Roditis of Il Romanista in Los Angeles. Margherita, pepperoni, and mushroom pizzas are available by the slice ($5), half-pan ($30-$39, feeds 3-4), or whole pan ($52-$76, feeds 6-8).

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The cucumber oasis, left, and blueberry mojito at Mr. Roni Cups.
The cucumber oasis, left, and blueberry mojito at Mr. Roni Cups.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

But the Cushmans didn’t want to just serve pizza. “That wouldn’t sustain us,” Tim says. Bianca’s menu emphasizes wood-fired cooking, and equipment includes a rotisserie. Chickens served a la carte or with potatoes and other sides were a natural addition. And then, Tim says, they thought: “'Why don’t we offer sushi too?' It’s real eclectic.”

It’s working out strangely well, given that, Nancy says: Families come in and the kids eat pizza, while the parents order sushi. Beer, wine, sake, and to-go cocktails like sangria are also available.

Mr. Roni Cups is not the full-service restaurant they imagined. But it’s an intermediate way to serve a new neighborhood they’re glad to be a part of, the Cushmans say.

“It feels like such a feel-good concept,” Nancy says.

47 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill, 857-576-8300, www.biancachestnuthill.com

Smoked salmon rolls at Mr. Roni Cups.
Smoked salmon rolls at Mr. Roni Cups.Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Torched salmon teriyaki and spicy tuna crispy nori sushi tacos at Mr. Roni Cups.
Torched salmon teriyaki and spicy tuna crispy nori sushi tacos at Mr. Roni Cups.Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Avocado tempura roll at Mr. Roni Cups.
Avocado tempura roll at Mr. Roni Cups.Lane Turner/Globe Staff



Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.