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Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria, a create-your-own Neapolitan pizzeria with an Italian-trained Pizzaiolo, opened its first location in Santa Barbara, California, in February 2013. Persona has since announced plans to expand its national footprint with a franchise opportunity. Company plans call for adding 10 new restaurants in 2014 and having as many as 250 locations nationwide in the next five years.
“If there is any doubt that the pizza segment is worth studying, consider that nearly 70,000 pizza restaurants sell about $40 billion worth of pizza each year in the United States. That’s a lot of dough any way you look at it,” says Persona cofounder Joseph Baumel. “What sets us apart from other concepts is our commitment to high quality standards of true Neapolitan pizza. The success of other fast casual pizzerias can be attributed to the newness of the concept. Once that fades, however, they will just be another mediocre pizzeria.”
A former real estate professional in South Florida, Baumel moved to Los Angeles following the great real estate bust of 2008 to pursue his dream of working in the restaurant business. Upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa, California, he returned to Los Angeles to build his own restaurant concept. A chance encounter at the 2012 Pizza Expo led him to Glenn Cybulski, World Pizza Champion and Pizzaiolo. Shortly after meeting, the two worked to launch their vision and Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria opened its doors for business in Santa Barbara on February 16, 2013.
Persona’s Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza is modeled after pizzerias in Naples. Customers can pick and choose from over 30 toppings and watch their customized pies be assembled. There are also fixed-price specialty pizzas to choose from, based on Cybulski’s award-winning recipes. Each pizza takes about 90 seconds to bake using imported Marra Forni ovens that are 300 degrees hotter than most eateries. The pizzas are 12 inches in diameter and start at $6.95.
“While nothing can replace a culinary pilgrimage to Italy, we’re determined to create a far more affordable alternative right here in the United States,” Baumel says. “With the quality of our pizza, we’re saving you a trip to Naples and about $6,000.”
Persona also offers gelato made by a Milano-trained gelato chef in Los Angeles, as well as a salad station where dressings are made from scratch.
To augment the company’s growth, Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria is seeking franchise partners who recognize potential in the fast-casual segment of the pizza industry. The total investment to own a Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria is approximately $275,000–$450,000.