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Southern pizza chains expand

Original Italian Pie, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers step up expansion

Three pizzeria chains with roots in the South — The Original Italian Pie, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza and Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers — have plans to accelerate growth around the country.

Atlanta-based Big Game Brands, owner of The Original Italian Pie, said the 13-unit full-service chain expects to nearly double in size by opening 12 new pizzerias in the Southeastern United States by the end of 2012.

Big Game Brands, formerly Raving Brands, plans to open its first corporate Original Italian Pie in Charlotte, N.C., in early May, said Daryl Dollinger, Big Game Brands president. A new franchised location also is set to debut in New Orleans this summer, Dollinger said.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza said it will open restaurants in Clifton, N.J., and Woodbury, N.Y., this year and currently is scouting a location in the Orlando area. The 27-store chain also is planning to expand in the Northeast with locations potentially slated for New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, said Anthony Bruno, the chain’s owner.

Atlanta-based Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, with 115 restaurants in 15 states, opened a store this week in Anderson, S.C. The chain is planning another 20 openings this year in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C., said Tammy Lucich, a spokeswoman for the 37-year-old Mellow Mushroom.

Dollinger said the Interstate 10 corridor between Jacksonville, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., is a big draw for Big Game Brands, which also operates Monkey Joe's Parties and Play, The Flying Biscuit Café, Cowlicks and The Penguin. Other potential locations for The Original Italian Pie include Orlando and Gainesville in Florida, he said.

“We love Florida from our old days in Moe’s [Southwest Grill],” Dollinger said.

To help expand The Original Italian Pie chain, Big Game Brands hired Pat Linch as vice president of operations and brand leader. Linch previously worked with The Original Italian Pie brand and will remain based in New Orleans to lead franchise support and training efforts.

“I am excited to be joining the team and look forward to expanding The Original Italian Pie across the United States,” Linch said. “I have a strong passion for the brand and believe that its diverse menu and distinct customer service will drive franchise interest in a concept that works in both larger cities as well as smaller markets.”

Expansion plans were announced after Big Game Brands acquired The Original Italian Pie late last year. Big Game Brands also bought Penguin Drive-In of Charlotte, N.C., in 2010. The Original Italian Pie was founded in New Orleans in 1992 and is known for gourmet made-to-order pizzas.

“After launching concepts such as Moe’s Southwest Grill, Mama Fu’s and Planet Smoothie, we understand what it takes for a concept to be successful in an ever-changing environment,” Dollinger said.

Meanwhile, Bruno, founder and owner of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, said all future stores would continue to be owned by the 9-year-old chain. Bruno did say while visiting his pizzeria in Clearwater, Fla., this week that he does look for investors to help underwrite groups of four to six stores in specific markets.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].

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