Forbes has called it one of 10 hot new chains from established brands, and most recently it was named a 2013 Top 50 Restaurant Brand of the Year. But it was one fateful lunch during a business trip to Texas that hooked Michael Understein on Pie Five Pizza Co.
As the first franchise owner to introduce the celebrated fast-casual Pie Five Pizza Co. concept to North Carolina, Understein's sole focus is to bring Pie Five's great-tasting pizzas topped with the freshest ingredients, baked and ready to eat in five minutes to residents in the Charlotte-North Carolina area.
While traveling in Dallas, he was introduced to the brand as he searched for a good lunch stop and walked into a Pie Five restaurant. One meal, and he was ready to open restaurants.
"I ordered my pizza, and it was really good," Understein says. "But I just stayed and watched the crowd. I watched how customers were coming through the door, customizing their orders, and getting their pizzas by the time they reached the checkout. It was fresh, it was delicious, and it was individualized for every guest."
Understein wasn't your ordinary casual observer. He brought the Panera Bread concept to North Carolina and grew it to 14 locations as a joint venture partner helping to fuel the brand's quick expansion across the state. Prior to that he held positions as vice president of operations for Hard Rock Cafe and vice president of operations for Applebee's International.
The minute he got home, Understein called his business partner Josh Keaton and they have been on a fast track with Pie Five ever since. Understein was awarded one of the first franchise agreements for the chain in a multi-unit deal to open up to 10 locations.
His first Pie Five location will open at 1915 Matthews Township Shopping Center, Charlotte, North Carolina, this summer, and he is already in negotiations for a second site.
"Mike's restaurant and operations experience speaks volumes about the kind of debut Pie Five will make in North Carolina," says Madison Jobe, chief development officer of Pie Five. "He has witnessed the evolution of restaurants from the highest levels, and he understands that today's guests want delicious food and a great experience, and that's exactly what Pie Five offers."