Brian Banick, co-founder and partner of Minneapolis-based Solos Pizza Café, has been a fast-casual pizza pioneer, opening the concept’s first restaurant in February 2007. But while the rest of the industry appears to be catching up in a “gold rush” environment, he and other players in the upstart segment say there is room for multiple winners in the race to define fast-casual pizza.
“When we started, we didn’t really understand the term ‘fast casual,’ and that term and segment have evolved as well,” Banick said. “A big part of everything we do is customer service and research. … We were developing the concept and realized nobody was doing it because the oven technology was difficult to find back then. … It is certainly going to be product quality, consistency and customer service that will really carry us.”
Solos’ eventual franchisees would be expected to grow the brand as well, Banick said. Three-unit Solos recently began offering franchise opportunities and is vetting interested operators from the Midwest and markets as far away as Florida and Arizona.
The rest of the new segment includes young chains with aggressive, franchise-driven growth targets, including Pie Five Pizza, Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint, Top That!, and Your Pie. Other entrants have major restaurant companies as high-profile backers, including Denver’s Live Basil Pizza and Los Angeles-based PizzaRev, which received a minority-ownership investment in March from Buffalo Wild Wings.
The chicken wing specialist recently said it would open its first PizzaRev locations next year in the Minneapolis market it shares with Solos.
“We have the opportunity to open [PizzaRev] locations in Minneapolis, partly as a test of the concept and partly because this is our home territory, so it’s a great opportunity for us to take a look at how it functions and the upside potential to it,” chief executive Sally Smith said during Buffalo Wild Wings’ second-quarter earnings call. “We’d like to have something open, if possible, probably the first quarter of 2014.”