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New players in the growing segment — Social Life Pizza, Custom Fuel Pizza, and Garage Brewing Co. & Pizzeria — expand upon traditional offerings with craft beer or a full bar.
Custom Fuel Pizza
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To Zach Current, sometimes it’s impossible to ignore the need for change.
Current founded Fuel Pizza in Charlotte, N.C., in 1998. Fuel Pizza is a traditional pizza-by-the-slice concept with a 1930s gas-station design that also offers chicken wings along with frozen bar drinks, beer and wine. In partnership with New York-based multi-concept operator The Restaurant Group, Fuel has grown to 10 units in North Carolina and the Washington, D.C., area.
More recently, however, new pizza oven technologies have tempted Current down a new path. The company developed a variation on the Fuel theme, allowing guests to build their own individual pies, which are baked in about two minutes in a Turbo oven, using a combination of high heat and forced air.
The new concept, called Custom Fuel Pizza, opened in Washington, D.C., in August. The pizzas are oval shaped, roughly 13-by-7-inches, and feature the choice of white, wheat or gluten-free crust. Prices range from $6.57 to $7.97.
“We really feel like this is the pizza model of the future,” said Jeremy Wladis, president of The Restaurant Group and a partner in Custom Fuel.
Salads are also an important part of the menu, with signature offerings as well as build-your-own options. “It’s really to address the veto vote,” said Wladis, “but we could see salads becoming about one-third of sales.”
At Custom Fuel, Current also kept the frozen margaritas and rum punches from the mother concept on the menu, along with beer and wine.
The first location is only about 1,500-square feet, but future units will likely range up to 2,400-square-feet, Current said.
A second location is under construction in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, and two more are planned for the Washington, D.C., area before the end of next year.
Current said he’s planning to launch a franchising program in three to six months, but the company will continue to build out the Carolinas, New York and Washington, D.C.
The fast-casual pizza space is crowded, but less so on the East Coast, said Current. “It’s going to be a battle over who gets the good real estate,” he said.