VOL. 132 | NO. 152 | Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Red-Hot Growth for Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizza
By Michael Waddell
Chad Foreman, left, and Kirk Cotham worked together at FedEx Corp., Buckeye Technologies and Accredo Health in Memphis before becoming business partners and owners of Memphis-based Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizza. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizza has blazed quite a trail over the past five years by growing to five Memphis-area locations, and now co-owners Chad Foreman and Kirk Cotham are turning their sights toward expansion through the southeastern U.S.
Before forming Pyro’s in 2013, Foreman and Cotham both worked at Accredo Health Group, a Memphis-based specialty pharmacy company that was acquired by Medco Health Solutions and is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Express Scripts, which merged with Medco in 2012.
“That merger either meant we would be moving to St. Louis, or they made it interesting for us to find new opportunities and gave us the ability to do that,” Foreman said. “We wanted to stay in Memphis, and we came across this thing that was starting to happen called fast casual. “At the time, it was so new that very few people across the country were doing it. We knew it was going to be the next big thing.”
Within a couple of weeks of learning about fast-casual dining, the two were traveling across the country looking at every place they could find offering fast-casual pizza. Initially, they were looking for a franchisor to partner with, but after six months of talking with various franchisors and investigating their brands, Foreman and Cotham decided to do something different for Memphis and do it on their own.
Beginning around Thanksgiving of 2012, they spent a year building the Pyro’s concept, which features oven-fired gourmet pizzas with more than 40 possible ingredients, along with a variety of coffee beverages, craft beer and wine.
When the entrepreneurs started, Foreman said, their mantra was to carry local beer.
“Fortunately, we opened at about the same time as Wiseacre, Memphis Made and High Cotton were all launching their (craft brewery) programs, so we were able to open on Park and Union carrying all three of them,” said Foreman, who added they are partnering with local breweries in other markets as well.
Pyro’s also offers Ugly Mug coffee at its Memphis-area locations.
The restaurant chain has grown since 2013, with five Pyro’s Pizza locations in the Memphis area, including this one in East Memphis, and four more in Mississippi and Arkansas. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
The business partners and friends went to graduate school together at the University of Georgia in the early to mid-1990s, and then went on different career paths before meeting back up at FedEx Corp. when Cotham hired Foreman. The pair went on to also work together at Buckeye Technologies before joining Accredo.
“The idea was always that we could create something, where instead of bringing a concept to Memphis it could be from Memphis,” Cotham said. “We always wanted to expand the footprint that we cover in Memphis and then we would grow out from there.”
They focused on the dining experience, making it upscale fast casual, and also on figuring out the real estate side of expansion.
“We wanted to go out and convince the landlords of the world to give us the best space that would make us both successful,” Cotham said. “We were able to do that, but it took a lot of legwork, frankly, to convince landlords to give two guys with no restaurant experience their ‘A’ spaces.”
They focused on the Memphis market first and then were able to parlay that into expansion to Tuscaloosa and Opelika, Alabama; and Tupelo, Mississippi. Leases are signed for a new Pyro’s in Birmingham, but the building has not been built yet.
“We’ve been able to leverage the Memphis base that we’ve built in order to move into other markets,” Cotham said of the company’s expansion. “The key to growing the brand is consistency, and how we’ve been able to build upon that is really through social media.”
Pyro’s most recent opening was in Tupelo earlier his year, and the partners say reception has been strong.
For now, there are no further expansion plans for the Memphis market, but the duo is not opposed to the possibility in the future.
“With the five locations we’ve put in, we have very good coverage for the market, but that’s not to say we have 100 percent coverage,” said Cotham. “So I wouldn’t say we are necessarily done, but we feel good about where we are.”
The Pyro’s on Union Avenue in Midtown will undergo a minor refurbishing later this year. Local architecture and design firm Ross Witt PLLC has worked with Pyro’s since the beginning on its designs, and Traditional Construction built all five of the company’s Memphis locations as well as the new Tupelo restaurant.
Each Pyro’s location employs an average of 30 to 40 people, and its corporate offices count a staff of 10.
For now, the company plans to continue to own all of its locations, with no plans to franchise future stores.
Foreman and Cotham have also recently opened a new concept, the Levee Creamery in Collierville, which opened at 2059 S. Houston Levee Road in May. The shop features locally roasted coffee from French Truck along with a variety of handmade ice cream flavors, including Mustang Madness (Oreo cookie and vanilla), Mint To Be (mint with chocolate flakes), Grit and Grind Café (coffee), Birthday Bash, Mud Island (chocolate), and more.
Foreman and Cotham are developing another new concept that could be revealed later this year.