Pizza chains that are taking over America

Move over Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's! The fast-casual, high-quality ingredient, create your own style pizza scene is taking over. These pizza chains are quickly becoming crowd favorites and many are expanding across state lines. You see, the pizza scene is changing. More gourmet chefs have gotten into the pizza business and have shaken up the traditional approach. These places are offering bolder pizza toppings and letting the customer take a driver's seat approach to pizza creation. Most of these "new era" pizza chains sell individual sized pies and offer a wide variety of artisan toppings in a short amount of time.

Larger chains are simply not keeping up. Papa John's 2018 North American sales dropped 7.3 percent, something CEO Steve Ritchie says was caused at least partly because the chain's "creative and value offerings have not resonated with consumers in an heightened competitive environment," according to CNN. And Pizza Hut isn't faring too much better. According to CNBC, parent company Yum Brands has been trying without much success to boost sales at the once strong pizza chain. Could it be that these large pizza chains are declining because of the little guys?

If you consider yourself a pizza loyalist, then you may want to check out some of these chains to see what all the fuss is about. Take a look to see if your favorite made the list —and if they didn't give one of these a try. These are the pizza chains that are taking over America.

Mod Pizza

Ever heard of Mod Pizza? Well, if you've ever visited one of their 400 locations in 28 states and the UK, then maybe you just might love them.  America seems to love them too because according to Nation's Restaurant News, Mod Pizza, founded in Seattle in 2008 by a husband and wife team, is America's fastest-growing restaurant chain in 2019 — the second year in a row they've enjoyed that honor. MOD's press release states that sales have increased exponentially, by 45 percent, and they are looking at reaching 1,000 locations within the next five years.

Mod Pizza prides itself on selling the superfast pizza experience without sacrificing quality. You can get artisan style individual sized pizzas with over 30 types of unlimited toppings all for the same price. They even launched their own app with a rewards program to keep up with the mobile demand, which has grown by 100 percent. Not only is Mod Pizza taking over the pizza chain business, but they are doing it with style.

Blaze Pizza

Blaze Pizza is one of those little guys looking to take on the large pizza chains, and they're quickly becoming real players in the game. Started by Elise and Rick Wetzel of Wetzel's Pretzels in 2012, Blaze offers customers a fast-casual approach that they believe will beat out fast food chains. Elise told Business Insider, "There are too many fast food restaurants. People are not going to be satisfied with that. They want convenience, health, and taste."

The company reached $279 million in total sales, which is a 50 percent growth from the previous year, in 2018. Rick told Business Insider, "Blaze Pizza is much better than competitors. What we do is what people want." They've added deliveries, and a larger size pizza meant directly to compete with industry leaders like Pizza Hut and Domino's.

Blaze Pizza had 316 locations in 42 states and five countries as of February 2019, and is even backed by basketball legend, Lebron James. Make no mistake though, Blaze Pizza is more than just about their notable names. According to their website, if you eat at Blaze you'll get "fresh, made-from-scratch dough," as well as "healthful, artisanal ingredients." Could that be the pizza of the future?

Pizza Rev

PizzaRev wants to welcome you to the "PizzaRev-olution." Their philosophy is that the customer calls the shots in all aspects of pizza creation, and that it's something fast enough you can eat on your lunch break. Customers can pick from four options of dough, five different sauces, and over 30 types of cheeses and fresh ingredients.

There are also plenty of vegan, gluten-free, and veggie options in addition to their "caulipower" crust. Renae Scott, chief marketing officer at PizzaRev, says, "we pride ourselves on continually innovating our menu, and delivering the absolute highest quality product to guests." According to Nation's Restaurant News, an investment firm headed up by Don Thompson, a former McDonald's CEO, acquired a majority share in PizzaRev in 2017 after buying out the initial investor, Buffalo Wild Wings. His company invested in the brand "because of its scale for growth." The chain started in 2012, and as of June 2019 has more than 40 locations in eight states and Mexico — with plans for expansion. That's a revolution, don't you think?

Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana

This Connecticut classic coined the term "apizza" (pronounced "ah-beets," in case you were wondering), which is a thin, chewy, charred crust that comes from the super hot, coal-fired ovens used to bake it. The New Haven style of pizza originated with Frank Pepe himself, an immigrant from Naples, Italy in 1925. Everything about the style started with Pepe, and it's characteristics can be found in pizza joints all around the region. His original tomato pie, topped with just tomatoes, seasonings, and grated cheese, is still on the menu, as well as their signature white clam pizza. Co-owner Gary Bimonte told Crain's Connecticut that Frank Pepe's growth is likely thanks to "a lot of reasons," namely their use of "high-end ingredients," some of which he says are imported from Italy."

This regional pizza chain can only be found in New England. Although Frank Pepe's is only located in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, it continues to open more locations each year. It already has 10 locations — not a big number, but major growth from it's one original modest location. Despite its' small physical reach, Americans seem to love Frank Pepe's pizza. It remains among the nation's best pizza chains year after year, and the styles mimicked from them continue to gain reaches across the industry.

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza has its eyes set on pizza domination. In June of 2019, the company made public the hiring of three new top executives that plan to lead the brand forward. This South Florida pizza chain began in 2002 when Anthony Bruno, a New York native, moved to Florida and could not find any "good, authentic pizza." He started a Fort Lauderdale restaurant that focused on Italian food, which includes a menu full of "coal-fired" delights. From their signature crispy pizza crust to theirnever-frozen chicken wings, and meatballs, Anthony's delivers a distinctive smoky taste in every bite.

In 2004, Miami Dolphins former quarterback Dan Marino partnered with Anthony, and since then, the brand has expanded into over 60 locations spread out among eight states (as of June 2019). In fact, they've even brought their Florida-based, New York-style pizza back to New York. 

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza has embraced the concept that new wave toppings drive pizza sales. Customers can customize their own pizza, as well as order specialties like the roasted cauliflower pizza, broccoli rabe and sausage pizza, and Philly cheesesteak pizza, just to name a few. If you happen to be visiting the East Coast, find out if there's an Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza in the vicinity. You won't regret it.

Pieology

Pieology opened in 2011 in California with a build your own pizza concept. Guests can choose from six different crust options, seven sauces, and around 40 toppings (depending on season and location) to create their favorite individual pizza. Is this trend starting to sound familiar to anyone?

Pieology's founder, Carl Chang, started the company because he realized there was a problem with the pizza industry. "Pizza for us was somewhat broken," he told Business Insider.. "Pizza used to be a celebration when you were with family and friends… now it has become a bit more [of a] convenience food or a coupon food if you will." Chang sought to change this and wanted Pieology to become a restaurant that celebrated food.

It seems like Lebron isn't the only NBA superstar wanting a slice of the pie. ESPN reports that Kevin Durant's company, the Durant Co., joined the Pieology team in 2017 after he was impressed with the quality and the fast turn around time for his pizza. 

Pieology has expanded its domestic and international growth rapidly with locations across the country, as well as Guam, Mexico, and Spain. It has been restructuring its' brand, yet despite some recent store closures in 2018, the company assures guests that it is a strategic move to switch to more franchised locations, with new locations planned for the future.

&pizza

&pizza started in Washington D.C. in 2012, but it's much more than a pizza chain. CEO Michael Lastoria likes to think of his brand as a "cultural movement." In a recent interview with Forbes, Lastoria says, "We have this big, lofty idea of changing the world by doing right by our employees. We want to be a case study for others in the foodservice space by leading with unity and connectiveness and purpose. We're about all of that and pizza." 

In addition to being focused on employee development, &pizza is company driven and does not franchise. Lastoria feels that "there is a benefit to being in the trenches and doing the work yourself." His goal is for the company to emerge as part of a collective effort of its employees, and shares that some of the best ideas have come from people who have joined the company and put their time and effort into the collective whole. As of December 2018, the company boasted 35 locations, and had plans to double that number in just a year and half.

Putting aside the business aspect, America seems to love &pizza! Customers can score an individual sized pie in a unique oblong shape with the ability to craft your own or go with some of the "hits." Their social media game is also strong, as they are very active on Twitter showcasing specials, promotions, or chatting up about pop culture. They've come a long way since their sole D.C. outpost, you can find &pizza in six other regions, with more locations to come.

Giordano's

One thing Chicago is synonymous for is their deep dish pizza, and Giordano's is at the top of that game. Opened in 1974 by Italian immigrants, Giordano's continues to be a leader in the Chicago pizza scene as well as in the eyes of many Americans. The brand earns frequent media coverage and has been acclaimed "Chicago's best pizza" by NBC, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and many more.

The brand continues to add locations around the country in addition to shipping frozen pizzas around the United States. They are currently in nine states and have 70 locations, with more opening in 2019. Their souffle-like pizzas have developed a cult following and many claim that the "upside down way" is the way to go. While they are an Italian restaurant, 70 percent of their total sales were pizza as of 2016, and they are looking to slim down the menu and stick to what they do best — which is deep dish pizzas.

Marco's Pizza

Marco's is not new to the pizza game. The Ohio-based company has been dishing out authentic Italian quality pizza for over 40 years. What has changed though is their franchising approach, and they hired some top-level executives to oversee the change. It seems that they are working to stake their claim in the pizza world.

In 2004, Marco's Pizza had 126 locations across three states. By 2017, Marco's Pizza was named the third fastest growing pizza chain by Nation's Restaurant News. In 2018, Marco's Pizza was named the seventh largest pizza chain in the United States according to Nation's Restaurant News' report. Fast forward to 2019 and the Toledo pizza company has expanded into over 900 locations across 35 states and four countries. The plan is to continue the trend by introducing 30 new locations by 2020, with the 1,000th store opening in 2019.

Marco's Pizza prides themselves in delivering pizza the Italian way, with freshly made premium dough daily, house-made tomato sauce with imported herbs and spices, and a signature three-cheese blend. They are working to compete with the "big boys" of pizza by offering delivery and more locations to service America's demand for great pizza.

Pizza Studio

Pizza Studio focuses on the art of pizza making. They want to set a new standard for pizza using high-quality ingredients in record speed. Pizza Studio's conveyor belt cooking method can dish out a beautifully cooked pizza in just two minutes. To take advantage of this quick turnaround, this speedy pizza company has sought out locations in college campuses, airports, and hospitals. 

Pizza Studio opened in 2012, and by 2014, their revenue grew 300 percent. By 2015, they were named to Forbes' list of the most promising companies in America. They're one of the fastest growing pizza chains in recent years, making Restaurant Business' list since 2015.

According to Pizza Studio's website, the crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings all deserve equal importance. Their crusts are offered six styles, their cheese is grated every morning, there are a wide variety of freshly made sauces, and their vegetables are roasted daily. They want customers to "build the best, with the best." With locations in 12 states and several in Canada, Brazil, and the Philippines, Pizza Studio is surely a company to look out for.

Jet's Pizza

Jet's is a favorite Detroit-style pizzeria in the Michigan and surrounding area. Opened by brothers Eugene and John Jetts in 1978, Jet's pizza is famous for their square cut pan pizzas, and their focus on quality ingredients. They use fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, Italian herbs and spices, freshly grated mozzarella cheese, and dough prepared by hand each day.  "There are a lot of ways out there to make cheaper pizza", Eugene Jetts says, " Jet's is about better pizza. That's why we have never skimped on the product or ingredients, and never will."

Jet's is also rapidly growing as a major pizza delivery franchise around the country. As of May 2019, they have over 400 locations in 20 states, and while their claim to fame is their deep dish pizza, they also serve thin-crust, hand-tossed, New York style, and gluten-free options. They even have flavored crust options that include Cajun, butter, and garlic varieties. In 2015, Forbes named Jet's Pizza the #2 best franchise to buy. Maybe Pizza Hut should be worried that this delivery style chain is gaining momentum.

Pizzeria Locale

This Colorado-based pizza place actually began as a full-service Italian restaurant under classically-trained chef, Lachlan Patterson, and sommelier, Bobby Stuckey. Both men received awards for best in their category, multiple James Beard awards and Outstanding Wine Service in 2013. It was in that year that Chipotle partnered with the duo and their first fast-casual location opened in Denver with a simplified menu of the original.

Pizzeria Locale has created a buzz due to this partnership and the culinary background of its two founders. The company has expanded quickly into the Southwest region, and although they had to close five locations in 2018, they are looking towards a new way forward under a new CEO, Brian Niccol. He told 5280, "I think Pizzeria Locale has a pizza with a point of difference… In its food, in the way [the food is] created, the ingredients we're choosing to source, and ultimately, in the experience when you eat it. I don't see a lot of pizza places that exist that way."

One way things have started to look up is that Pizzeria Locale has invested in streamlining their online delivery orders. Since their pizzas take just a few minutes to bake, guests living within a mile or two of one of their locations can often get their pizza delivered in under 15 minutes. Co-owner, Patterson says, "Things have never been better in every aspect: team, sales, and momentum."