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The Windy City may be renowned for its deep-dish style pizza, but Chicago Franchise Systems is flattening the iconic pie with its new concept Doughocracy Pizza + Brews. The restaurant group behind two other limited-service restaurants—Nancy’s Pizza and Al’s Italian Beef—will open two franchise locations this fall with the first debuting in Geneva, Illinois, next month, and a second in University City, Missouri, not too long after.
Chicago Franchise Systems founder and president Dave Howey has worked in the pizza category for more than 40 years and he says the rise of fast-casual pizza is more than a passing craze.
“We just felt that the fast-casual pizza is real. I don’t believe it’s a trend; I don’t think this is a little blip in the screen here,” Howey says. When he and his team began noticing the crowd of emerging pizza concepts, Howey says he knew it was a movement the company should be involved in. “Being a prideful Chicago pizza guy, feeling that we could just do this a little bit better was the goal.”
Unlike Nancy’s (and Chicago’s well-known “stuffed crust” pizzas, Doughocracy’s thin, Neapolitan-style dough allows each personal 12-inch pie to cook in three minutes, which Howey says works well with consumers’ increasingly busy schedules. And as with any fast-casual pizza concept worth its sauce, Doughocracy emphasizes the high quality of its ingredients, which include San Marzano tomatoes and freshly prepared dough. The brand has 10 pizza varieties on the menu, and guests can also build their own pie.
Howey says that many of the larger chains are having trouble adapting to the new standards for pizza after years of only promoting cheap prices.
“The chains, first of all, have gotten so big, it’s hard for them to change,” Howey says. “Pizza is a relationship business and a lot of the businesses out there that are going to try to get into this, they’re not aware of it. They’re used to just churning and burning and moving people through the line.”
In contrast, Nancy’s has grown slowly since its inception in 1972 with nearly 30 stores, mostly situated in Illinois, but new growth in Georgia and California. Howey says that Nancy’s has used the same sauce, cheese, and dough since the early days, making it the kind of brand that people “grow up with.”
Although Doughocracy and Nancy’s are targeting different demographics and have no crossover, Howey says that introducing a new pizza concept should not be difficult, given the universal familiarity and love for the category.
“You don’t have to educate anybody about a pizza. … Traditionally, pizza is pizza,” Howey says. “This fast-casual thing is different and it’s hitting the court. We want to be on it. We believe in it, and we’re going to do what we can to take this where we feel we can take it.”
By Nicole Duncan