Seattle-based MOD Pizza is one of several concepts in the growing segment

The fast-casual pizza niche is one of the hottest in the industry, with a number of well-funded players racing to capture the best real estate and key markets.

It’s too early to say which brand will become the first national fast-casual pizza chain — offering individual pies that are made-to-order by guests as they walk a service line, in the style of Chipotle Mexican Grill, and baked in minutes.

Their models are very similar. Most emphasize a made-from-scratch crust and the use of locally sourced and high-quality ingredients that result in a premium pie. In addition to pizza, most also offer salads and some have desserts, beer and wine. The availability of Coca-Cola Freestyle machines is also a common feature.

Capturing the niche will be a marathon, not a foot race. Still, as with any crowded marathon, a few players are moving to the front of the pack, at least in terms of unit count. Some ended 2012 with only one or two units but reached double digits by the end of 2013 — with sales growth in the triple digits.

Here’s a look at the seven largest fast-casual pizza chains and their growth path ahead: