Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria, a create-your-own pizzeria concept out of Santa Barbara, California, signed a franchise development agreement to open as many as 20 restaurants in South Florida over the next five years. The agreement marks the first major franchising announcement since Persona launched its franchise opportunity earlier this year.

“Persona’s expansion into South Florida is a major milestone for the brand as we expand beyond our Santa Barbara roots,” says Glenn Cybulski, cofounder of Persona. “We look forward to introducing the brand to guests in South Florida and have no doubt they will love the Neapolitan-style pizzas that have made Persona so popular.”

The development rights for the South Florida restaurants have been awarded to Sager Management Group, a multiunit franchisee that owns and operates 20 Subway and Auntie Anne’s in the area. Headed by Steve Sager, a 30-year veteran of the franchise industry who has himself developed more than 200 Subway restaurants throughout New Jersey and Florida during his career, Sager Management Group plans to open its first Persona restaurant by the end of the year.

“The growing number of pizzerias jumping on the fast-casual trend really got me searching for an innovative option with a broader menu and better environment,” Sager says. “When I found Persona, I knew I had found the concept that matched perfectly with what I was looking for. I have never seen a start-up with Persona’s potential. Their speed of service, coupled with the quality of the product, is unmatched in the pizza field or any field in franchising.”

With both a certified Italian Pizzaiolo and classically trained chef, Persona’s Neapolitan-style pizza is modeled after the legendary pizzerias in Naples. Instead of waiters serving tables, customers order their pizzas, which start at $7.95, through an assembly line similar to Chipotle or Subway. They walk in, pick a sauce and type of cheese, and choose from over 30 toppings. The team behind the counter puts it all together, then tosses it into an imported wood-fired Marra Forni oven that is 300 degrees hotter than most eateries. Ninety seconds later, they pull it out, cut it into slices, and there you have it.

Persona also offers fixed-price signature pizzas, based on Cybulski’s award-winning recipes.

All the pizzas come in one size, 12 inches, and are crafted from 00 flour and tomatoes imported from Naples, combined with locally sourced vegetables, meats, and cheeses. The meatballs, sausage, and sauces, all made on-site, have won gold-medal acclaim nationally and internationally.

“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,” says Persona founder Joseph Baumel, a classically trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America. “With the quality of our pizza, we’re saving you a trip to Naples and about $6,000.”

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Fast Casual, Growth, News, Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria