Fast casual Pie Five, the pizza concept inspired by Chipotle, is receiving help from sister chain Pizza Inn to build volume in its kitchens.
The brand plans to package Pizza Inn as a virtual concept in five locations. Brandon Solano, CEO of parent company RAVE Restaurant Group, said the pilot will “leverage Pizza Inn’s ‘latent brand equity’ in areas without Pizza Inn coverage to drive volume and four-wall economics.” The test will start during the company’s second quarter, which is during the fall season.
The move comes about a year after RAVE unveiled the most significant menu transformation in Pie Five’s 12-year history. The update focused on differentiated pizzas for individuals and the elimination of large sizes. Solano at the time said the fast casual was also “making operational and hospitality improvements to personalize consumers’ dine-in experience while reducing third party delivery friction.”
Pie Five’s domestic same-store sales increased 5.4 percent in fiscal 2023 year-over-year and 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter.
As of June 25, the chain had 27 restaurants after closing four units and opening none throughout the year. RAVE said the net decrease was “primarily the result of the closure of poor-performing units.” This is the lowest Pie Five’s unit count has been since Q1 2015 when it had 24 stores.
The chain once had 100 units in the U.S. in early 2017, but store count has been falling ever since. There’s a nearly 60-unit difference between 2017 and 2023:
End of Fiscal 2023: 27
End of Fiscal 2022: 31
End of Fiscal 2021: 33
End of Fiscal 2020: 42
End of Fiscal 2019: 58
End of Fiscal 2018: 73
End of Fiscal 2017: 84
The first Pie Five restaurant opened in June 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas. About a year and a half later, the concept signed its first franchise development agreement. The brand takes after Chipotle, in which pizzas are created at the direction of customers in an assembly line format. Typically, Pie Five stores are based in endcap or in-line spaces of between 1,800 to 2,400 square feet. Dining rooms can fit 65–85 people and there’s patio seating when available. Sales are primarily on-premises.
Despite the stunted growth, RAVE plans to keep engaging operators.
“We intend to continue developing franchised Pie Five Units domestically,” the company said in an SEC filing. “The rate at which we will be able to continue to expand the Pie Five concept through franchise development is determined in part by our success at selecting qualified franchisees, by our ability to identify satisfactory sites in appropriate markets, and by our ability to continue training and monitoring our franchisees. We intend to continue to focus on franchise development opportunities with experienced, well-capitalized restaurant operators.”
Pizza Inn finished its fiscal 2023 with 157 locations. Of that, 123 were in the U.S.—77 buffets, seven delco stores, and five Pizza Inn Express shops. The chain’s comp sales grew 10.3 percent in fiscal 2023 year-over-year and 9 percent in the fourth quarter.