Our Take

Musings on the Foodservice Industry

The Rise of Fast Casual Pizza

As you scroll down the 800 Degrees website, you have many choices: Choose a Crust, Choose a Base and then come the Add-Ons. You want Neapolitan crust or Gluten-free?  You want a White Pie (Bianca), a Green Pie (Verde), a Marinara or a Margherita?

The Add-Ons are almost too many to mention delineated by Protein, Vegetables and Cheeses. This is definitely not your Uncle Tony’s pizza joint.

800 Degrees is but one of a growing number of fast casual pizza places you have heard about of late.

They are hip, flexible, customizable, gourmet, fast and casual all at once.  They are often times created by chefs or veteran foodservice operators looking for the next big thing. The success of some of these new-fangled pizza restaurants is astounding.

Rick Wetzel, who created Wetzel’s Pretzels, started Blaze Pizza which he modeled after Chipotle.  He will have more than 150 locations by the end of the year and seems to be opening almost one a day.

The emphasis of the new fast casual pizza place is on freshness and creativity as much as speed.  You can Build fast casualYour Own pizza at any of these restaurants. Of course you can get your favorite pepperoni pizza at these places too because how could they leave out the No. 1 topping in American? But you will also see a bevy of ingredients you may normally find at a five-star restaurant.

Pizzas with butternut squash, roasted pineapple, truffle cheese and caramelized onions.  Fresh Burrata and handmade pasta are commonplace. There are also a wide variety of small bites, salads and sandwiches.

At MOD Pizza, the menu credo promotes “Endless Options”.  You can “feel inspired” and create a personalized pizza. At MOD the idea is to create an affordable, customized pizza super fast.

Aside from Chipotle, which revolutionized the Mexican food category, similar evolutions have occurred in burgers and sandwiches, so why not pizza?

800 Degrees is actually an offshoot of Umami Burger.  Blaze Pizza investors include LeBron James and Maria Shriver.  Blaze will have 1,000 units within five years so this is surely not a fleeting fad.

Pizzas are made in wood-fired ovens at these fast casual joints.  Their marketing revolves around the lofty idea of artisanship rather than dough-throwers and cheapo deals.

Ultimately, the creation of fast casual pizza was inevitable as consumers sought high quality, consistency and better service.  Not all pizza places have to have sawdust on the floor and limited menu options.

Live Basil is one of the new concepts that promotes its freshness and bold flavors.  Truffles and mascarpone are as popular as sausage and peppers.  

In many ways, this movement comes as a response to the Millennials who are driving so many changes at restaurants these days.  This youthful demographic likes to get things their way and that sort of personalization is a selling point at these spots.

Remember, too, that this is “fast” casual so instead having to wait 30 minutes for a pizza; you can get it hot out of an open-hearth oven in a few minutes.  Furthermore, the fast casual pizza places have expanded the lunch day-part by offering small pizzas and a multitude of salads and sandwiches.

The pizza customer has spoken loud and clear about his/her desire for something new and different via the fast casual restaurant.

Uncle Tony, are you listening?

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