This post is part of the Reporter's Notebook blog.
After a whirlwind tour of fast-casual pizza brands in Los Angeles earlier this month, there was a notable brand missing: Pie Five Pizza Co.
Operated and franchised by The Colony, Texas-based public company Rave Restaurant Group Inc., Pie Five doesn’t operate in Los Angeles — yet, though given the tough competition here, Southern California may not be a high priority for the brand.
While in Dallas for our annual MUFSO conference, I had the good fortune of visiting a Pie Five for the first time, along with parent company Rave CEO Randy Gier.
It was good timing. Rave on Thursday reported same-store sales up 6.7 percent for the Pie Five brand in the June 28-ended fourth quarter and 11.2 percent for the fiscal year.
During the year, the chain added 34 new units bringing the total to 54, though it will hit 68 before the end of the current quarter. The company has development commitments for more than 400 units.
Gier sees Pie Five as the growth vehicle for Rave, which changed its name in January from Pizza Inn Holdings Inc. to reflect a shift in focus.
The 250-unit Pizza Inn is the company’s heritage brand and known for its buffet format. Rave has been working to turnaround that brand and same-store sales have been positive for five consecutive quarters.
Gier said the company plans growth of about 1 percent to 2 percent per year for Pizza Inn, and to keep franchise operators healthy.
Meanwhile, Gier would like to see Rave become a multi-concept fast-casual specialist, with Pie Five as a tent pole.
After building Pie Five for another couple of years into a national and international brand, he expects the company will look for an acquisition to expand on Rave’s fast-casual offerings.
Gier is intrigued by the Mediterranean space, though it’s too soon to say what direction the company may take with any acquisition.
Like the other fast-casual brands, Pie Five continues to evolve and Gier sees his brand competing with the spectrum of other build-your-own-pizza players, even the more-premium Neapolitan brands like 800 Degrees and MidiCi. Pie Five is working on a Neapolitan-style crust, for example.
The chain uses a ventless conveyor oven, which has been tricked out with a faux chimney because they didn’t want it to look like a Quiznos toasting oven. That gives the brand more flexibility for nontraditional locations like airports, where venting could be an issue, and build-out costs are lower, he said.
Salads are tossed to order and served in adorable bowls made of leftover pizza dough, which reduces waste. Dough is made in house and the crusts are machine pressed.
In addition to the signature thin crust, Pie Five has a deep-dish variation, as well as a whole-grain crust and an outstanding gluten-free crust made with “ancient grains.”
There’s no beer and wine, but Pie Five has desserts baked in house, which offers add-on sales opportunities.
There’s work to do. Rave ended the quarter with a net loss of $0.6 million and a loss of $1.8 million for the year. Consolidated revenues were up nearly 27 percent to $13.9 million for the quarter, and up 14 percent to $48.2 million for the year.
Gier sees great momentum as the Pie Five brand continues to expand.
“Pie Five is on fire,” Gier said in the earnings report. “We consider double-digit comp growth in our first full year of reported comps across a significant store base outstanding performance in a tough industry.”