This is part of the 2013 NRN 50 special report, "Breakout Brands." This year NRN takes a look at 50 brands that are some of today's hottest emerging concepts. Meet the concepts shaking up the restaurant marketplace.
Two years ago, few people this side of the Atlantic had even heard of a piada. But if the aggressive growth of the fast-casual Piada Italian Street Food chain continues, soon there won’t be anyone who hasn’t heard of it.
Started in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010, the concept is built around the piada, a tortilla-like Italian bread. Guests customize their orders as they walk along a production counter, much as they would at Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Piada’s 10 units are concentrated in the Ohio cities of Columbus, Dayton, Canton and Cleveland. A unit is scheduled to open soon in Indianapolis, and further expansion in the region is under consideration.
“Now we have 10 stores in a little over two years — that’s pretty aggressive,” said Chris Doody, founder and chief executive of Piada. “As fast casual, it’s really positioned to grow.”
Though the growth may seem rapid, it was well-thought-out, Doody said. For example, before opening the first store, Doody built a test kitchen in his corporate office, where he held focus groups for nine months.
“I wanted it to be great out of the gate,” Doody said.
Doody first encountered the piada in Rimini, Italy, just south of Venice. The thin Italian bread is cooked on a stone with olive oil and then filled with high-quality ingredients. At Piada customers can fill theirs with as many ingredients as they want. Customizable chopped salads and pasta bowls are also available.
With its upscale ingredients, customizable offerings and walk-the-line style of service, the brand has been called the Italian Chipotle. It has also been compared to Panera Bread. Doody said he takes that as a compliment.
“Chipotle and Panera are the two leading restaurant brands in the country,” Doody said. “There’s a reason that Piada is positioned to not only compete with these particular brands, but complement [them]. Several of our concepts are next to or near those concepts.”
Piada has been called “one to watch” by several news outlets and observers, including Steve Rockwell, a 30-year restaurant industry veteran and a Nation’s Restaurant News contributor. Rockwell said he likes Piada for its upscale food and atmosphere, as well as Doody’s past success with Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo! Cucina Italiana, two full-service Italian concepts he created that were acquired by private equity firms before going public in 2010.
Alice Elliot, founder and CEO of the hospitality search firm The Elliot Group, said Piada has huge potential, in large part because of Doody’s leadership abilities.
“It’s great to have ideas, but you have to be able to apply them,” Elliot said. “Chris had the confidence and foresight to find a product ... that would appeal to the masses instead of following what others have done.”
As for the rapid growth rate, Elliot said it’s right on target.
“I don’t think Chris has expanded rapidly,” she said. “He’s been very thoughtful and methodical. It’s truly a breakaway concept.”