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Pie Five evolves as fast-casual pizza matures

Pie Five evolves as fast-casual pizza matures

Randy Gier, CEO of parent Pizza Inn, discusses changes at the concept

As the fast-casual pizza segment matures, three-year-old Pie Five Pizza Co. has modified its concept to better serve its largely Millennial customers, CEO Randy Gier said.

With more concepts entering the fast-casual segment, competition is mounting, said Gier, chief executive of Pie Five parent Pizza Inn Holdings Inc., based in The Colony, Texas.

“You are starting to see segments develop,” he said. “Consumers have been looking for a solution to have pizza on their terms for a long, long time.”

The 27-unit chain now offers freshly made salads, desserts and bundled meal offers, Gier said. The layout of the restaurants has been modified to promote engagement with the patrons.

“We’ve made a lot of changes in our concept,” he said. “We’re very customer-centric, listening and responding to the customer.”

One of the major changes was moving pizza ovens off the front line and putting them along the back wall of the food preparation area.

“We’ve completely opened the line up,” Gier said. “We’re now making fresh salads in front of customers. We’re making desserts. We try to stay engaged with them.”

The fresh salads and cleaner serving line were key evolutions for Pie Five.

“In the original version of restaurant, once the pizza was made and put into the oven, the customer stood behind the wall. You were standing in line waiting. How do you make two minutes feel like 20? Put people behind that wall,” Gier said.

Pie Five’s pizzas take one minute and 45 seconds to bake, so employees have time to engage with customers. “We don’t want to send them to a table to wait,” Gier said.

The oven has been replaced with a fresh salad station, where the bowl is made out of baked pizza dough.

“It elevates the quality,” Gier said. “We used to have salads in pre-packaged clamshells. We elevated that experience.”

Pie Five also has brownies and cookies and other desserts in that area.

Check averages have risen, Gier said, though he would not provide a figure. Pie Five also added a meal bundle, with pizza, a choice of salad or dessert and a beverage, priced at $9.99. “It’s a full meal under 10 bucks, and that’s a good value,” he said.

Pie Five has also added crust options including whole-grain and gluten-free versions. Dough makers and cheese shredders have been moved to the front of the house, conveying more of what Gier called “freshness” cues.

Pie Five was an early player in the fast-casual pizza segment, opening its first unit in June 2011.

For its first quarter ended Sept. 28, Pizza Inn said Pie Five restaurants saw a 17-percent increase in same-store sales over the prior-year quarter. Pie Five systemwide total retail sales increased 119 percent, and average weekly sales increased 32.6 percent year over year, the company said.

Pie Five will open two more company restaurants before Christmas and five franchised units, bringing its total unit count to 34 locations, Gier said.

“We’re in heavy opening mode right now, but we continue to evolve Pie Five,” he said.

Gier said Pizza Inn wants to expand Pie Five “aggressively, but intelligently.” The company expects to end its 2015 fiscal year with 60 to 70 total restaurants open in the Pie Five system, with between 22 and 25 of those company-owned, he said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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