(Editor’s note: This post was updated at 3:20 p.m. on Tues., Aug. 27, with an interview with Pie Five Pizza franchisee Lonnie Young.)
Pie Five Pizza Co., an 11-unit subsidiary of Pizza Inn Holdings—remember Pizza Inn, Baby Boomers?—has awarded a 10-unit franchise deal to Lonnie and Connie Young and Curt and Carrie Currell.
The investor group will bring the fast-casual concept to the greater Louisville area (including southern Indiana) and Lexington.
Interesting stuff given that Pie Five is a fast casual concept, a largely untapped niche for pizza. That means customers come to the counter, choose a crust type and move down the line giving pizza makers their toppings choices.
The “five” in Pie Five alludes to transaction times that total about 5 minutes. Given the chain’s use of crusts that are parbaked multiple times a day, it can deliver such speed by baking pizzas in about 2 minutes.
If you’ve not been to Uncle Maddio’s in the Highlands, go there and see how it’s done. They do a fine job of fast-casual pizza.
The franchisees have operated McAlister’s Delis (in Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina), which is good news. Given McAlister’s quality, it’s clear they can run restaurants well.
Lonnie Young, a Louisville native and current resident, who introduced McAlister’s to Kentucky in 2001, said he sees the same wide-open opportunity for Pie Five Pizza Co. in the area.
“We’re entrepreneurs, we want to take a risk on what’s new and different,” said Young. “Others buy what’s proven, and that’s OK, too, because I eventually want one of those to buy this from me!”
Though just a few years old, Pie Five has been named a 2013 Top 50 Restaurant Brand of the Year, a 2012 Hot Concepts winner by Nation’s Restaurant News and one of “10 Hot New Restaurant Chains from Established Brands” by Forbes.com.
Pizza Inn, its parent company, based in The Colony, Texas, was one of the country’s largest pizza chains in the 1970s, when it had about 700 units.
But after years of horrible corporate management and golden parachute scandals it’s now half that size. (There used to be one in Buechel in the 1970s, and there’s still a good one in Paducah.)
Good management stabilized the company and decided that the idea of expanding Pizza Inn was out, that it needed a fresher growth vehicle for franchisees.
Pie Five was born and it’s done exceptionally well in short order.
“As we continue our expansion across the nation, we’ve been capturing the attention of many outstanding restaurant operators that recognize the game-changing potential of Pie Five,” Madison Jobe, chief development officer for Pie Five, said in a news release.
Yeah, I know it sounds press-release corny, but it’s true: this one’s a head-turner and established operators with good reputations are recognizing it.
I’ve also talked to Jobe in the past and find him to be a reliable source. (We’re hoping he’d call today, but he didn’t. Perhaps he’s off making pizzas somewhere, right?)
That Pie Five will be run by veteran operators also is good since past Pizza Inn honchos sold franchises to way too many yahoos who helped bring down an otherwise good brand.
Too many brands make the mistake of selling franchises to anyone who can back their excitement with liquid reserves. (Just ask John Schnatter: He sold Papa John’s International franchises to inexperienced but well-heeled prospects that all but stopped the chain’s growth rapid growth in the late-1990s and early 2000s. He eventually corrected that error and Papa John’s fortunes along with it.)
That the chain is attracting strong talent helped sell Young and his wife on the franchise.
“There are operators from Panera Bread and Five Guys involved in this, and that was important in our decision,” he said. “Those are some really sharp people involved. And I’m not the dullest knife in the drawer either.”
Currently, Pie Five locations are in Texas, Kansas, North Carolina and Utah. According to the release, the addition of Louisville and Lexington markets would bring the total announced franchise restaurants under contract to 105 in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
The Youngs plan to open their first restaurant in Kentucky (the release said Louisville, but Young corrected that) no later than the first quarter of 2014. Where that’ll go, we don’t know yet. But you can bet we’ll share that info when we do.
“We will choose a location, whether it’s in Lexington or Elizabethtown or here, based on a good business decision, not a financial decision,” Young said. “I don’t rent places based on whether I can get them for $5 a square foot, I based it on what will bring the most business.”
Interesting: Last month, I received a call from another fast casual pizza brand looking seriously at the Louisville market. So I doubt Pie Five will be the last one to join the fray.