Fast-casual pizza concept Project Pie is scheduled to open its second restaurant next month, and has launched a franchise program that will include international growth in the Philippines.
Project Pie debuted in October with a unit in the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The custom-made artisan pizza concept was founded by James Markham, chief executive, who also founded and later left the MOD Pizza chain in Seattle, and Pieology, based in Fullerton, Calif.
Although Markham arguably created the fast-casual pizza niche, his Project Pie is now following the launch of a number of rapidly growing competitors.
Others include Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, based in Pasadena, Calif.; 800 Degrees in Los Angeles; Uncle Maddio’s in Atlanta; Top That! Pizza, based in Tulsa, Okla.; PizzaRev in Los Angeles; and Pie Five, based in The Colony, Texas.
Markham, however, notes that he already has experience developing custom-made pizza concepts in various markets, which gives his company an advantage as he grows Project Pie across the country. “There are so many people popping up out there, it’s almost comical,” said Markham. “But the other guys are still figuring it all out. I did that with MOD and Pieology. I’ve been through all the trial and error already.”
At Project Pie, guests walk a service line and build their own pizzas for one price — typically about $7.50 for a 12-inch pizza, although the Las Vegas unit is priced at $12, which is in line with other casino-resort restaurants.
The pizzas feature a thin crust topped with sustainable and local ingredients when possible. Pies are cooked in an 800-degree oven in a few minutes. The menu also includes salads, housemade oatmeal cream pies and milkshakes.
The second Project Pie restaurant is scheduled to open in early February in the San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest. At about 2,300 square feet — slightly larger than the 1,800-square-foot unit in Las Vegas — the San Diego unit will serve as a template for future locations.
A third company-owned location is under construction in Boulder, Colo., with the target opening set for mid March. The company plans to open seven restaurants in 2013, with locations also planned in New York; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco.
Meanwhile, the company has signed an agreement with International Family Food Services Inc., based in Manila, to develop 50 locations in the Philippines.
Markham said Project Pie is also close to finalizing franchise agreements for development in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; and possibly San Diego. “We’re going to do corporate and franchise in some markets to seed the market ourselves,” he said.
With franchising underway, Markham said the company has developed four interior design options, with the goal of creating a unique look for each restaurant.
Markham is also planning to open units in recycled shipping containers that are powered by hydraulics and run on vegetable oil. The units can be set up quickly in nontraditional locations like festivals or sporting events.
The company is testing a café concept within a shipping container called Boxd in Carlsbad, Calif., offering waffles and waffle sandwiches. Markham said the setting will also work for Project Pie, although mostly likely in three shipping containers modified to stand together so customers can walk the service line.
Markham said he sees an open runway for fast-casual pizza, despite the number of competitors already grappling for attention.
“You will start to see some of them falling off because they won’t be able to handle the operational piece with quick growth,” he said. “What will make the difference, in the end, is who will be able to execute properly.”