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VOL. 133 | NO. 25 | Friday, February 2, 2018

DIY Pizza Craze

Fast-casual pizza changing the industry

Melinda Lejman, Special to The Daily News

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For decades the “Big Three” – Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s – have dominated the pizza industry, but the fast-casual dining concept is changing that.

And one of the new players disrupting the industry is PizzaRev, a fast-casual pizza restaurant with three locations in Memphis.

“Fast-casual pizza is the most rapidly growing segment in the pizza category,” says Ed Yancey, head of franchise development for PizzaRev.

The idea is to emulate quick-service restaurants like Chipotle, where consumers have more control over the ingredients in their food and can be in and out in less than half an hour.

PizzaRev was created by two Los Angeles families and bolstered by an investment from Buffalo Wild Wings before being acquired in 2017 by Chicago-based food-and-beverage accelerator Cleveland Avenue. The brand has expanded across the U.S. and is eyeing Canada as a potential new market.

The popularity of the craft-your-own pizza concept that comes with a quick cook time means that pizza has become a viable lunch option. And with stores popping up across the nation, pizza consumption is trending at its highest level in four years, according to research firm Technomic’s 2016 Pizza Consumer Trend Report.

“This has revolutionized the pizza category, so now a lot of people are eating pizza at lunch,” Yancey said. “I’d say 50 percent of our transactions happen at lunch time.”

In addition to unlimited toppings and a cook time of five minutes for a personal pizza, each of Memphis’ PizzaRev stores offers a curated selection of beer and wine utilizing a self-serve system connected to a wristband. A customer simply opens a tab with a credit card and has access to any offering on the “beer wall,” as well as control over the amount dispensed.

“People like that capability,” Yancey says. “They like to have choices in the beverage category.”

Of the 18 taps available at each of the three Memphis PizzaRev locations, eight are typically reserved for local craft beer – a well-established niche in the Memphis community, said franchisee Robby Stewart.

“We’re not a bar,” he said. “People aren’t coming in to drink pitchers of beer, they’re coming for the flavor.”

With a description of the beer and flavor profile available, customers can choose to sample a variety of beers, rather than pick one or two.

“The average person is only pouring six, seven ounces at a time,” Stewart says. With a typical pint measuring 16 ounces, some might equate offering sampling capability as responding to consumer demand.

Consumers are also interested in “clean” ingredients.

“Pizza and healthy never were in the same sentence,” Stewart said.

Offering thin-crust dough, salad combinations and organic ingredients, pizza is now a convenient option for the health-conscious. However, making pizza appealing with fresh ingredients and low-calorie alternatives isn’t the only thing driving the pizza revolution.

Stewart, who is also the franchisee for Memphis-area Steak-N-Shake restaurants, believes you can never go wrong with pizza and burgers. The success of local restaurant Rock-N-Dough, which serves pizza, burgers and offers local beer, supports that theory.

Like competitors Pyros and Lost Pizza Co., PizzaRev is tapping a niche in the market.

“Memphis has a cool vibe to it,” Stewart said. “When we started looking at pizza, and wanted to do something a little bit different than your normal pizza place, we researched the concept of fast casual.”

PizzaRev’s beer wall is unique to craft-your-own pizza restaurants in the area and is available at each of the Memphis locations: 6450 Poplar Ave., 2825 N. Germantown Parkway, and the newest location, 765 N. Germantown Parkway, which opens in early February and is now hiring for 30+ positions.

The brand also offers online ordering, as well as an app for smartphones, responding to consumer demand for ease of ordering through technology.

“When you thought about pizza in the past, you thought about men, you thought about ball games, maybe one for the family that’s delivered,” Stewart said.

But today, craft-your-own pizza concepts combine the tradition of pizza with dine-in or take-out options and have something on the menu for everyone.

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