Before Ed Brownell and Gail and Richard Lozoff entered the fast-casual pizza arena, they were veterans of another quick-service category: bagels. In the 1980s, the Lozoffs founded Bagel & Bagel, which Brownell helped grow, even after it—along with other small chains—was absorbed into the greater Einstein Bros. Bagel system.
But 13 years ago, the three sensed the winds of change approaching. The fast-casual segment was emerging, and the business partners wanted to get in on the ground floor with a brand that could grow to a national level.
That’s why, in 2005, the trio opened the first Spin! Neapolitan Pizza in Kansas City, Missouri. It has since grown to 18 units across multiple markets, including Dallas, San Francisco, and Nebraska. Brownell says the brand’s approach to ingredients and its service style set it apart from the myriad build-your-own pizza brands that have blossomed over the past decade.
“The quality of our product is a lot different from the competition,” Brownell says. “Most of the competition is kind of cafeteria-style, where you stand in line and order your pizza and then you get it. Spin—although it’s fast casual—has an element of full service.”
Guests order at the register, but once they leave the counter, the service morphs to resemble a sit-down experience. Customers can also choose to have items brought out in stages like a multi-course meal by ordering things like appetizers, beverages, and salads.
Brownell says that at lunch guests typically want food all at once, but at dinner many customers opt for a more extended meal with wine and beer.
While Spin’s pizza is not certified Neapolitan by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, an international organization representing Neapolitan pizza makers, it takes inspiration from the classic style. Brownell says a true Neapolitan pizza tends to be very wet and is baked in about 90 seconds. Spin’s pies are baked a little longer, resulting in thicker slices that he says cater to the American palate.
Spin! Neapolitan Pizza
FOUNDERS: Gail Lozoff,
Richard Lozoff, and Ed Brownell
HEADQUARTERS: Kansas City, Missouri
YEAR STARTED: 2005
ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed
TOTAL UNITS: 18
FRANCHISE UNITS: 4
In developing recipes, Spin worked with James Beard Award–winning chef Michael Smith to perfect the flavor pairings and bring a culinary touch to the humble pizza pie. Smith is a well-established figure in the Kansas City dining scene; he owns one restaurant that bears his name and another, Extra Virgin, which specializes in tapas.
“We worked with a local equipment supplier and used [Smith’s] test kitchen, going in every morning for two or three months and working on the recipes,” Brownell says. “We would get prepped up, and then Michael would come in and work with us on flavor profiles and ingredients. We would use either our friends or people in the business to test the products.”
Many ingredients—from tomatoes to eggplants and mushrooms—are prepared, marinated, and roasted at Spin locations before being placed on the pizzas. In addition to the pizza, other items include salads topped with made-from-scratch dressings, homemade soups, panini, Italian deli sandwiches, appetizers, small plates, and all-natural gelato ice creams.
Spin also taps local vendors to build a wine collection that far exceeds the fast-casual quota. Some locations offer as many as 20 varietals with bottles costing about $20, and where legal, guests can bring in their own bottles to enjoy at the restaurant for a corkage fee. Brownell says Spin makes sure the wines are high quality but also a good value.
On Sundays, Spin offers a kids-eat-free promotion: With the purchase of a pizza, large salad, or Mini Mia pizza combo, children under 12 receive a kid-sized pizza or mac and cheese with a mini gelato.
Spin locations also host Spirit Nite fundraisers where local elementary schools can drive traffic to the restaurant and receive 20 percent of the sales.
During the past two years, Spin has more than doubled its footprint, with new locations in the San Francisco Bay area, Dallas, the University of Central Missouri, and Lawrence, Kansas.
Spin has franchised four stores since it launched the program about six years ago, and Brownell says the company has been and will continue to be methodical in its growth. For example, although it has operators as far afield as California, Brownell says Spin most likely won’t expand into other distant markets anytime soon, but rather focus around its homebase.
“For a company our size, we don’t want to have an awful lot of restaurants,” he says. “We’ve been methodical about how we grow and very particular about who our franchisees are. We want to make sure the culture stays intact, and we don’t outgrow that, so we spend a lot of time with our people, and we only grow as quickly as we can have managers ready to go into new restaurants.”