Brixx Wood Fired Pizza plans to expand into Georgia this fall, a first for the growing casual-dining chain.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based pizza and craft beer concept has 21 restaurants, 10 of which are company-owned. It is targeting Richmond, Va.; Tennessee; Central Illinois; Indianapolis; and a few sites in South Carolina for expansion. Brixx is focusing on urban areas with lots of “rooftops” — or residential areas.

“You know, we’ve always been expanding,” said Neil Newcomb, president of Brixx Franchise Systems LLC. “It’s just that this year, stars aligned and we’re probably doing five restaurants in 12 months.”

The chain plans to open five locations within the next 12 months, with the goal of having about 45 new units open within the next five years. The plan is to set realistic goals, Newcomb said.

Average unit volumes at company-owned units are $1.95 million — a great number for a 3,500-square-foot restaurant with a low cost of goods, he said.

“I think there is a lot of interest in our segment right now,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about what’s next for Brixx.

Why is Georgia a good target market?

Its proximity to Charlotte. We think there are a lot of great sites in Atlanta. Athens is sort of a natural for us. Any time you have a college town, your tastes in beer are going to be a little more sophisticated. Pizza also. We’re not the place where an undergraduate goes to get a slice of pizza. We don’t do delivery, so we’re not going to go to the dorms.

Grad students love us. We’re in Chapel Hill, [N.C.,] right now and we’re a favorite hangout for the grad students.

What is the biggest challenge of expanding Brixx?

Finding the perfect real estate. Real estate is the most important decision you can make in the restaurant business. If you have the wrong manager, you can fix that. If you have a bad menu item, you can fix that. But if you get a bad site, there’s no fixing it. You have to wait out the lease. We just want to be prudent and thoughtful and smart about getting the right sites.

What makes the right site?

We look for rooftops [residential areas]. We look for retail. Co-tenants are something that we look really hard at. Our restaurants tend to do well near a P.F. Chang’s or Coldwater Creek. We do a good late-night business, so a movie theater is something that we like to see, and other restaurants, because a lot of our late-night business is the service industry itself. All of our locations are open till 1 a.m. every day but Sundays.

What makes Brixx different from California Pizza Kitchen and other wood-fired pizza chains?

One of the bigger differences between us and CPK is our restaurants are 3,500 square feet. They do larger, big experiences. We get closer to the rooftops. We’re really close to the houses. They put theirs in a mall. We’re doing well over $2 million a year with a smaller space.

We have two sources of heat in our restaurants: a wood burning oven and a six-top burner. We’re not going to put wings on the menu. We’re not going to have hamburgers. French fries are not coming on the menu. We’re going to stick with our concept. I really admire what Chipotle did, really keeping the menu constrained but really mastering your niche. We’re going to do the same.

What’s your growth strategy: Franchising or company-owned units?

Both. On the company side, they’re profitable locations worth investing in. For the franchise side, we just really wanted to develop a strong franchise arm of the business.

How do you find the right franchisees?

Lots of talking. Lots of relationship building.

What are your best-selling menu items?

We sell more pizzas than anything. The next category is beer. We also have a strong following in vegetarian, vegan and gluten free. The people with special diets tend to flock to us.

Contact Erin Dostal at erin.dostal@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @ErinDostal