For the past 15 years, Tony Gemignani has been training people from around the world to make pizza at his International School of Pizza in San Francisco, but he closed the renowned school in August to focus on franchising.
Long regarded as a leading expert in making pizza, and a sort of godfather of the current generation of independent American pizzerias, Gemignani operates some 30 restaurants of his own, including his flagship Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, Capo’s and Toscano Brothers, also in San Francisco, and Pizza Rock in Las Vegas. He also has licensed venues in casinos, and at San Francisco’s major league stadiums Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors, Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, and Levi’s Stadium, home of the 49ers. But he has decided that his expansion vehicle will be Slice House, which operates in those stadiums as well as at seven standalone franchised locations in California and Nevada.
Gemignani said the existing Slice House restaurants opened without particularly standardized equipment or décor.
“If you're to walk into those licensed concepts they don't necessarily have the feel or the equipment or everything that we have when it comes to the franchise model,” he said. “They were much looser.”
But now a standardized design and equipment package is being implemented as Gemignani and his partners — George Karpaty, Trevor Hewitt, and Bill Ginsburg — gear up for expansion. Gemignani said 36 new Slice Houses are currently in the process of being built, with the first slated to open in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Gemignani said he decided to expand Slice House because of how well it performed under COVID-related restrictions.
“Most of the pizzerias in our industry did well, unless you were a big-box 9,000 square-foot restaurant,” he said. “These smaller to go, delivery, dine-in type locations that weren’t 50%, 60% dependent on seating, those stores did extremely well, and they stayed busy [as restrictions were dropped].”
The new model still isn’t simple. There are multiple types of pizza on the menu — Sicilian, Detroit, New York, Grandma, and California-style (with options such as purple potato with pesto and rosemary) — as well as gluten-free and vegan options. It also offers appetizers such as meatballs and chicken wings as well as salad and pasta. But franchisees get extensive training — three weeks at Gemignani’s Walnut Creek, Calif., location and three weeks in their own restaurants using their own equipment.
“And then if they need an additional week of training, we would of course do that,” Gemignani said.
That’s why he closed his school, to focus on training franchisees and stop training potential competitors.
“I didn’t think it was fair to my students or my franchisees,” he said.
Although the food menu is standardized, Gemignani is encouraging franchisees to work with local craft brewers and wineries for beverage options.
The cost of buildout varies by location, of course, but franchisees have the option of opening a fast-casual concept with limited seating of around 1,200 to 2,200 square feet or 500 square-foot takeout only kiosks at stadiums or high foot-traffic areas.
According to a brochure for Slice House, Gemignani and his partners are currently looking to expand throughout the Western United States, as far as Colorado and Texas.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]