What Inspires MOD Pizza's Cofounder

    The founder of one of the leading fast-casual pizza chains explains how his definition of success goes far beyond the number of stores he opens.

    MOD Pizza/Molly Piper

    Scott Svenson started the Seattle Coffee Company.

    My entry into the quick-serve industry really came out of wanting a cup of coffee. My wife, Ally, and I were living in the U.K. at the time, but missed the type of coffeeshops we used to have in our hometown of Seattle. After months of talking about it—and some peer pressure from friends—we started Seattle Coffee Company.

    We had about 80 locations in the U.K. and were preparing to go public when Starbucks put in to buy the U.K. division of Seattle Coffee Company. We sold to Starbucks in 1998, and I became president of Starbucks’ European division. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I cofounded an Italian deli concept called Carluccio’s, which we eventually took public and sold. It’s funny, because I never had the intention to build these businesses up to ultimately sell them, but it happened twice in a row.

    We moved back to Seattle and were both a little hesitant to get back into quick service. Our two previous successes seemed almost too good to be true, and we didn’t want to jinx it. During the time of uncertainty, however, we couldn’t help but notice the lack of innovation in the pizza market. There really wasn’t a whole lot done in the space for a long time, and that’s where MOD Pizza was born. We opened our first location in Seattle in 2008 and have been growing rapidly. Once you’ve been in the industry long enough, you see the impact you have on others, and that’s always been my favorite part of this business.

    I like to think that MOD is revolutionizing the way people see pizza, and while the product is important, it’s really just a platform for how we can have a positive impact. From the start, Ally and I determined how we would measure our success, and it wasn’t going to be the number of stores or the revenue generated; it would be the number of people who are employed with us. People start to feel connected to a business that seems to have a higher calling, and I couldn’t imagine operating MOD any other way. This vision of impacting others is the reason we do what we do and is what will define our long-term success.

    What was your first job?

    Janitor for my father in the fifth grade.

    What is your favorite menu item at MOD Pizza?

    We have four pizzas that are named after each of our four boys; they’re all my favorites.

    What is your favorite restaurant or type of food, excluding MOD Pizza?

    Good, simple, authentic Italian.

    What menu item or operational strategy are you most proud of?

    Our pizza salad.

    What are some of your interests outside of the business?

    Traveling and coaching my boys’ youth sport leagues.

    Who has inspired you as a leader?

    My wife.

    What is the best piece of advice quick-serve executives should hear?

    Take care of your people and your people will take care of the business.