Over the past few years, a band of start-ups have been making their way into the fast-casual pizza marketplace—almost as quickly as they can cook the pizzas. One of the latest contenders emerging in the race to dominate the booming industry is Firenza.
Anchored by a team of franchise executives with more than 100 years of restaurant business development experience, Firenza, which officially launched its franchise opportunity in September, plans to open as many as 15–20 new restaurants in 2016 and approximately 20–30 annually thereafter.
“The hottest trend in fast casual is no longer burritos, freshly baked sandwiches or even gourmet burgers,” says Firenza cofounder Dave Wood. “The key to fast growth in the otherwise stagnant restaurant industry is fast-casual pizza, and we’re confident that we have what it takes to become the segment leader.”
The pizza business is nothing new to Wood. Along with long-time business partner and Firenza cofounder Dave Baer, Wood owned and operated 17 Dominos franchises throughout Northern Virginia before opting for retirement and selling them in 2012. However, boredom soon got the best of him and he decided to launch a pizza concept of his own.
Wood and Baer have already opened their first two restaurants, one in the city of Fairfax, Virginia, and the other in Alexandria, Virginia.
Having quickly garnered a loyal following, Firenza specializes in truly handcrafted and made-to-order pizzas. In Chipotle-esque fashion, customers can pick and choose from nearly 40 toppings—six signature sauces, seven cheeses, nine meats, and 17 veggies—and watch their customized pies assembled right in front of them. For those customers who don’t want to create their pizzas from scratch, Firenza also offers eight, chef-inspired signature pizzas. Each pizza takes about 3–4 minutes to bake in an open flame stone-hearth oven.
While convenience and price are important selling points, the priority for Wood is phenomenal pizza. “Unlike most other fast casual pizza chains where the crusts are premade and machine-pressed, our pizza dough is made in house daily and hand-stretched to order right in front of the customers,” Wood says.
Once the pizza dough is stretched, customers can customize their pizzas with unlimited toppings for one low price. The cost of a simple pizza with cheese and one topping is $6.99. Pizzas with more than one topping—be it two or 20—is $7.99.
Other menu items include oven-baked wings, meatballs, and custom salads. Beverages include beer and wine, Mexican Coca-Cola, and Coke freestyle fountain drinks.
“The fast-casual pizza boom was the talk of the industry in 2013, and the buzz has only grown louder,” says Baer, noting that the industry has already mushroomed into a $21 billion-per-year industry. “Fifty-five percent of pizza consumers now purchase fast casual pizza at least once per month, and Firenza is looking to capitalize on this growing demand and multiply across the country.”
To augment the company’s growth, Firenza is currently seeking both single- and multi-unit franchisees. Area developer agreements are also being granted to a select few that meet Firenza’s stringent guidelines. With a franchise fee of $40,000, the total investment to own and operate a Firenza franchise is approximately $400,000–$500,000.
“When the ‘stars align’ and franchisees can take over an existing space with reusable infrastructure, the total investment can be as low as $250,000,” Baer adds.