Brian Parker, cofounder of Michigan-based Moo Cluck Moo, has already retooled the idea of a responsible restaurant through his better-burger chain, which pays its workers $15 an hour.
Now Parker believes he and his team can do the same for pizza by transforming the popular dish from a junk food to a super food.
Parker’s upcoming pizza concept, PieQ, is designed to take the idea of a healthier pizza from a dream to a global franchise not through gimmicks, but by reworking the basics.
“We’re really looking at this as a paradigm shift,” Parker says. “We’re not just another pizza company duking it out and saying ‘our oven’s hotter’ or ‘we have more toppings.’”
He says PieQ’s differentiator will be at the most fundamental level: the crust.
After years of conceptualizing and weeks of testing, Parker, along with COO Brian Freshwater and chef Jimmy Schmidt, managed to create a crust with nearly half the calories and twice the protein as crusts at other concepts. The crust is not made from traditional dough, but from a batter made of fufu flour, an ingredient typically derived from plantains and popular in some African and Caribbean nations.
This gives the crust a much healthier nutritional profile and ensures it is gluten free.
“We happen to be gluten free, but that’s not why we’re doing it; we’re changing the crust because of the low carbs and high protein value that we’re not finding in pizza anywhere,” Parker says.
PieQ will feature only locally sourced ingredients, and will shy away from typical soda offerings in favor of “beverages with nutritional value,” he adds.
Parker says the local element will remain strong at every franchise location.
“We don’t want our flavor profile to be the same region to region,” he says. “We’re trying to celebrate and educate customers on what’s fresh and local. It’s almost like the fish market concept, where you go in and see on the chalkboard the fresh catch of the day.”
The critical point, Parker says, is getting customers to recognize PieQ as a truly different pizza chain.
“The challenge is convincing people that this is a game changer, and that this is expandable,” he says. “We just need to get off square one and show the public that this is everything we’re saying it is.”
PieQ signed a multiunit franchise deal in North Carolina, and will open its first restaurant in Asheville. The store will exclusively offer carry out and delivery out of a small footprint.
By Emily Byrd