The marriage between the assembly line and fast-casual dining is a match made in heaven. Chipotle (CMG) , Subway, Quiznos, The Counter, Qdoba (JACK) , and others have mastered the art of custom-made food, providing delicious meals to customers and juicy returns to investors and franchisees.
One type of food that is glaringly missing from this list, however, is pizza. Many restaurant-goers argue that the proliferation of made-to-order pizzas, which offer individual-sized, build-your-own pizzas through ultra high-powered ovens, is long overdue.
Similar to the dining experience at Subway or Chipotle, customers can select which kind of dough, sauce, cheese, veggies, and meat toppings they want on their pizza. Chefs then place the pizza in ultra-hot ovens that can cook the pie in a minute or two. The idea is simple, clever, and delicious, so why hasn’t the made-to-order pizza industry caught on as quickly as custom sandwich or burrito establishments?
It’s not that custom-made pizza restaurants don’t exist, but are rather in their early growth stages and lack a single industry leader. While legitimate players are regional and serve customers in niche markets, it’s only a matter of time before one chain launches a massive national expansion.
In Los Angeles, the custom pizza industry is red hot. 800 Degrees Pizzeria took UCLA and the entire Westside by storm, featuring 800-degree wood-burning ovens, delicious Neapolitan thin crust, fresh buffalo mozzarella, an epic buffet of toppings, and premium add-ons like prosciutto parma, rock shrimp, and bacon marmalade. Pizzas start at around $6 and each additional topping costs approximately $1.
With lines out the door during prime hours and consistent business until 2 a.m., 800 Degrees hopes to expand its operations outside of Westwood Village. According to Zagat, 800 Degrees will open 10 additional restaurants by the end of 2014.
Rival school USC, of course, couldn’t let UCLA have all the fun. Hoping to replicate 800 Degrees’ success, The Pizza Studio opened across the street from the USC campus in Fall 2012. For $7.99, customers pick one of four different crusts and can choose unlimited sauces, cheeses, and toppings at no additional cost.
The Pizza Studio was a raging success within the USC community during the 2012-13 academic year, with lines out the door on a regular basis. Thus, company plans to open 37 additional locations in the coming years, according to fastcasual.com.
Could one of these two restaurants emerge as the king of the custom pizza? That’s anyone’s guess, as there are many other chains out there that have the potential to take a big bite out of the national market. One thing is for sure, though: the made-to-order pizza is a phenomenon that is set for national, if not global, success.
[Image via Yelp]