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R&IEditorial Archives2003December 1 — Business

Pie in the Sky
A new crop of competitors leads the pizza segments evolution

Delivery or dine-in, takeout or take-and-bake, pizza long ago cemented its place in American dining. Last year alone, the segment generated more than $25 billion in U.S. sales at 64,500-plus units, according to Chicago-based market-research firm Technomic Inc.

Always among the industrys most competitive categories, the pizza segment now faces even greater challenges. Sales growth in seven of nine limited-service categories outpaced pizza in 2002 over 2001, Technomic reports, and overall the number of pizza units decreased by 0.2%.

To help reverse these negative trends, a new generation of pizza-based operations has emerged to revitalize this customer favorite. While old-school pizzerias committed to traditional toppings such as sausage and pepperoni still abound, a mix of contemporary settings, high-quality ingredients and more-exotic offerings characterizes many up-and-comers.

Consumers visiting these forward-looking chains can select from unusual toppings such as pine nuts, zucchini, eggplant and oranges. Feta, fontina, Gorgonzola and Gouda are among cheeses joining mozzarella on menus, while sauces such as pesto, Alfredo, salsa and Thai peanut are offered alongside the familiar tomato-based. Options meeting special dietary needs also are more common, with dairy-free cheeses and vegetarian and vegan choices on the rise.

Through a variety of service formats in markets nationwide, the growing pizza chains that follow aim to combine all these elements to deliver their own slices of success.

Extreme Pizza
Home base: San Francisco
Units: 13
Seats: 20 to 40
Check average: $8 dine in; $17 delivery
Average unit volume: $1.06 million in corporate stores
Growth plans: already signed agreements for at least 29 stores in next 5 years; more to come
Web site:
Why watch it?: Extreme theme appeals to younger customers, quality products attract adults.

When its time to christen new creations, Extreme Pizza turns to the best creative team it knows: customers. Hence the offbeat tags on such specialties as the popular Poultry Geist (chicken marinated in ranch sauce with broccoli, onions, fresh sage and Swiss, fontina, Gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses) and the unique Peace in the Middle East (house-made hummus, tomatoes, olives, onions, feta, fresh basil, pepperoncini and mozzarella).

Launched as a take-and-bake operation in 1994, Extreme Pizza soon switched its focus to ready-made pies. Today delivery accounts for the majority of sales, with dine in, carryout and take-and-bake also available. In addition to signature pies, the chain offers four deep-dish pizzas and a build-your-own option with new potatoes and green chiles among the toppings. Personal-sized Indee Pizzas and pizza by the slice also are available.

Sleek interiors add to Extreme Pizzas appeal. The company hires professional photographers to shoot extreme sports competitions such as snowboarding and windsurfing and lines the stores walls with pictures for a gallery-type feel.

Goodfellas Brick Oven Pizza
Home base: Staten Island, N.Y.
Units: 12
Seats: 90 to 120
Check average: $13.25
Average unit volume: $1.38 million
Growth plans: 8 to 10 stores in 2004
Web site:
Why watch it?: Casual-dining concept that emphasizes takeout and delivery creates multiple avenues for growth.

Reaching a consensus on toppings isnt a concern for diners at Goodfellas, which divides its Quattro Cantone (four corners) pizza into four sections separated by a cross of dough. Customers can create their own combinations or select among 10 specialties, including standouts such as Pizza alla Vodka (mozzarella, tomato-cream vodka sauce, mushrooms, peas and prosciutto) and Sally Pie (which includes lemon-garlic chicken, rosemary potatoes and caramelized onions topped with a Cheddar-scallion cream sauce).

Goodfellas prepares pizzas two different ways: Old World-style begins with sliced mozzarella on the crust topped with scoops of plum tomato sauce; the Traditional New York-style features sauce on bottom and shredded cheese on top.

Mainly a casual, sit-down concept, the chain also brings in 25% of sales from takeout and delivery. Those who dine in can view pizzas being prepared and cooked in brick ovens that serve as focal points of the dining rooms.

Snappy Tomato Pizza
Home base: Florence, Ky.
Units: 55
Seats: 20 to 40 at dine-in units
Check average: $5.50 dine-in buffet; $15 delivery/carryout
Average unit volume: $380,000
Growth plans: 5 more under construction or contract; area developer in Florida plans up to 25 stores within 4 years
Web site:
Why watch it?: Three store footprints, distinctive offerings and a new prototype on the way place brand in prime position for expansion.

Snappy Tomato celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, but an evolving menu of niche products keeps this Midwestern chain young at heart.

Standing out among signature creations is the Snappy Tomatos Ranch Pizza, featuring a base of ranch dressing topped with hickory-smoked bacon, cheese, tomatoes, onions and green peppers. For group functions such as school parties and church events, a rectangular party-style pizza dubbed The Beast yields 24 large slices. Customers can cap off meals with the Snappy Apple dessert pizza: a layer of ricotta cheese covered with topping made with real apple chunks and sprinkled with cinnamon streusel.

Delivery/carryout units make up about 70% of stores, but full-service restaurants with buffets offer another option for franchisees. Some units are located inside convenience stores, selling a full menu. The chain also is experimenting with several co-branded units with Subway restaurants in Indiana and Kentucky.

Z Pizza
Home base: Newport Beach, Calif.
Units: 22
Seats: 20
Check average: $12 dine in; $28 delivery and takeout
Average unit volume: $550,000
Growth plans: up to 20 new stores in 2004
Web site:
Why watch it?: One of the broadest arrays of meats, sauces and toppings means something for everyone.

Boasting made-to-order menus, sleek interiors and upscale ingredients, Z Pizza views itself as the pizza segments answer to fast casual. The chains 16 pizza originals, cooked in brick ovens, offer wide-ranging toppings from zucchini and pine nuts to serrano chiles and salami. The seven sauce choices include chipotle pesto, roasted pepper and Thai peanut.

Among Z Pizzas offerings, Mexican pizza (lime chicken, salsa, avocado and cilantro) and Z.B.Q. (made with barbecued chicken, roasted red peppers, cilantro, sweet corn and barbecue sauce) rank as customer favorites. Health-conscious customers can opt for whole-wheat crusts and select part-skim mozzarella, nonfat or soy cheeses.

Business is split fairly evenly among dine in, carryout and delivery. Both regular and original pizzas are available by the slice.

Nick-N-Willys World Famous Take-N-Bake Pizza
Home base: Lone Tree, Colo.
Units: 40
Seats: 24
Check average: $12
Average unit volume: $450,000
Growth plans: 10 more stores in 2003; 50 planned for 2004
Web site:
Why watch it?: Take-and-bake format keeps operating costs lower, appeals to consumers quest for convenience.

Nick-N-Willys has been in aggressive-growth mode since partners Scott Adams and Richard Weil purchased the then 13-unit chain in May 2001. Adams, chairman and CEO, says two key elements position the concept for success: one, baking at home means customers are guaranteed a hot, fresh product; and two, they can dine at their own convenience rather than on a restaurants schedule.

In addition to gourmet, traditional and build-your-own take-and-bake products, Nick-N-Willys also sells baked personal pizzas available in any variety. Among the most popular is the Aegean, featuring an olive oil glaze, mozzarella, garlic, spinach, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, feta and oregano.

Business is 70% takeout, but customers who dine in can watch staff build pizzas from the eight-seat, 20-foot pizza bars that serve as a focal points in the dining rooms.

More to Watch

BRIXX WOOD FIRED PIZZA: Ten-inch, brick-oven-baked pizzas are the specialty at this four-unit casual-dining chain that also offers 24 beers on tap. Based in Charlotte, N.C., Brixx plans to open one restaurant this month and another in February 2004.

FIGAROS PIZZA: CEO Ron Berger purchased this Salem, Ore.-based chain two years ago and put it on a growth track. Offering both ready-to-eat and take-and-bake pizzas, the 85-unit, mainly carryout concept expects to open 45 new stores in 2004.

JET CITY PIZZA: Established in 1994, this Seattle-area chain now has 12 stores with one more to open by years end. The menu offers 15 gourmet pizzas, with crusts including beer-batter pan and roasted-garlic and herb.

NANCYS PIZZERIA: With 39 units and growing, this Chicago-based, mainly Midwestern chain offers ready-made and take-and-bake pizzas. Signatures include Buffalo-wing pizza with blue-cheese dressing and stuffed chicken cacciatore pizza.

PIZZA LUCÉ: Bar offerings and late closing hours have made this three-unit casual-dining concept a popular nightspot around its home base of Minneapolis. Specialties include baked-potato pizza and holiday pies such as corned beef and cabbage on St. Patricks Day. A fourth unit opens this month.

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