What is in this article?:
- Your Pie eyes growth in Southeast
- Growing the brand, growing the category
The chain recieved an undisclosed investment from Atlanta-based private-equity firm Georgia Oak Partners
Drew French might have been among the first restaurateurs to start the burgeoning fast-casual pizza segment when he opened Your Pie in Athens, Ga., in 2008 at age 24. But long before that, he was developing the concept of customized individual pizzas made quickly — mostly because he was not fond of sharing his favorite anchovy-and-black-olive pizza as a kid.
Now, as the sector heats up, with developing fast-casual pizza brands like Solos, Live Basil and Pie Five, French is not as keen on sharing franchisees or customers with fellow upstarts as he is with leading the category.
“Before there was any other competition, the goal was to be a globally admired brand,” French said. “Everybody loves pizza, so it made sense to me that Your Pie would scale, not just out of Athens but across the nation.”
In August, as Your Pie opened its 18th location, one big admirer did come calling: Atlanta-based private-equity firm Georgia Oak Partners. The firm’s undisclosed investment in Your Pie Franchising was intended to bolster the brand’s infrastructure and capital for growing to 100 units in two years.
French remains involved in Your Pie as a franchisee of three restaurants, and the company’s chief executive, Bucky Cook, also runs one location as a franchisee. The brand also brought in Ken Caldwell as vice president of development to oversee the new growth push.
“We realized that if we really want to take it to the next level, we’ll need the capital to do it, and our experience would only take us so far,” French said. “In the first conversations I had with David [Barr, a director at Georgia Oak], we knew it would be a good fit. I felt like it was time to invest in the company and make a move to build our infrastructure and give us the ability to scale faster.”
Targeting the Southeast
Georgia Oak was not the first private-equity firm to do its due diligence on Your Pie, French said, but the firm made the right partner because it understood that French wanted to expand Your Pie meticulously outward from the Southeast.
“What drew us to the segment was fast casual in a broad sense,” said Barr, who leads Georgia Oak’s restaurant, retail and consumer division. “Consumers are reacting to controlling their dining experience and customization. Then we looked at pizza, and Your Pie intrigued us because they were the first, and they are the largest. Other chains boast about how many units they have in the pipeline, but Your Pie is the largest.”
Upon meeting with French and Cook, Georgia Oak quickly was assured that the restaurant brand and the investors were aligned on how the system should continue to grow organically and contiguously in the Southeast.
French reiterated that Your Pie’s internal goal is to have 100 units open by the end of 2015. The target markets are Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Charleston, S.C.; Tampa, Fla.; and Birmingham, Ala.
“When we joined up with Georgia Oak,” he said, “we looked at the country and understood that, in terms of distribution and support, it makes sense to focus our marketing dollars on the Southeast.”