The Untold Truth Of Pieology Pizzeria

Pieology Pizzeria – often called "The Chipotle of Pizza" - claims it offers 78 billion pizza combinations (via PR Newswire). It's mind-boggling, yet extremely liberating, for you are the master of your own pie. You decide what topping goes well with what sauce on what kind of crust.  It's like a lab experiment that you get to gorge on in the end. And as the experimenter, the chain has a name for you: "pieologist" (via Business Insider). "We encourage our consumers to dream, to imagine, to be creative," founder Carl Chang told The Orange County Register. "Any system that doesn't allow you to do that is cheating the customer," he said. Pieology is a top leader in the custom pizza segment, which includes chains such as MOD Pizza, Blaze Pizza, PizzaRev and so on.

MOD Pizza was possibly the first to start the trend, and Chang was a part of it. He, along with James Markham and Scott Svenson, founded it in 2008. Three years later, Markham and Chang started their own place Pieology in Fullerton, California. And soon after, Markham split to start Project Pie on his own, leaving Pieology in Chang's hands. Chang has managed to expand the chain to 130 plus locations worldwide (via Restaurant News) and stay up-to-date with food trends. It was one of the first fast-casual pizza places to include plant-based meats (via VegNews).

Here are some lesser-known facts about the chain that was instrumental in kickstarting the custom-pizza movement in America. 

Pieology's owner Carl Chang was a tennis coach before turning entrepreneur

Born in 1969, Pieology-founder Carl Chang was on his way to becoming a tennis champion in his teens. Little did he know then that he would one day ace it in the world of pies. As a junior player, he was skilled enough to rack up wins against Pete Sampras, winner of the 1990 US Open, reports Baltimore Sun. Chang, if he wished, could have made the sport his profession, just like his younger brother, French Open-winner Michael Chang. But instead, he turned to subjects such as "business administration, economics, and political science," majoring in Political Economy in an Industrial Society at the University of California, Berkeley. However, he kept one foot in tennis, taking up the role of a coach to his brother. He excelled, earning the Coach of the Year title from Tennis Magazine in 1996 (via Riviera Capital).

Even while making sure his brother performed well on the tennis court, he carefully built a career in real estate. But he realized that making money is not everything, "it loses meaning and purpose quickly," Chang told Smart Business. He said, "The foundation of why I started Pieology was I wanted something I could share with my family, friends, and others in the community." For Chang, food is synonymous with family time. Growing up, every meal brought his family around the kitchen table. With Pieology, he visualized something similar, but for an entire community (via Restaurant News).

At Pieology, there is no restriction on the amount of toppings you can put on your pizza

At Pieology, you are spoilt for choice. There are four different crusts, according to the pizzeria's website. There are also eight sauces and over 30 different vegetables, meat, and cheese options to lay on your 11.5-inch pizza base (via Smart Business). You can also ask for a generous helping of spices and herbs, and a range of healthy toppings such as "sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans and candied walnuts" (via QSR). And this mix-and-match is not restricted to pizza, you can do the same for your salads. Heap it up, ask the staff to put the oddest of combination, maybe even all that you see, and it is guaranteed that they will be as nice as a pie.

"We get customers who come in and build a 7-pound pie. And we'll celebrate that and laugh about it. More often than not, we'll even bet their pizza doesn't come out quite the way they want it and buy them another one for free. Helping people feel welcome and never intimidated is an important factor," Pieology founder Carl Chang told Smart Business. But the best news is not that you can make a loaded pizza, but you can make it for no extra charge. When they first rolled out this hard-to-believe concept, Chang told The Orange County Register, "People didn't understand. People didn't believe it was really one price."

Pieology's idea of decor is a wall filled with inspiring quotes

Pieology serves its pizzas with a dose of inspiration. While you are waiting for your pizza to get baked in the oven (which takes five minutes by the way, per The Mercury News), don't forget to pay attention to the writings on the wall. Every location has a different set of sayings. At the San Jose Shopping Center location, you will see wise words attributed to Greek philosopher Aristotle, Mother Teresa, How to stop worrying and start living author Dale Carnegie, among others. The quotes are not restricted to personalities or books, some are taken off of a movie (via The Mercury News). "Many of the more than 500 phrases encouraging happiness and respect for others were chosen by my wife, Diana," founder Carl Chang told Pizza Marketplace

Chang himself is inclined towards philosophy, and the deeper questions of life. "What moves you? What motivates you? What brings you to tears? What makes you laugh? I'm always interested to see how a person feels, how a person thinks and where their heart is. I also like to ask, If you had the ability to change something in the world, what would that be?" (via Smart Business). This thinking reflects on the decor, be it the inspirational quotes on walls or the 'pizza mandala' signage (via Magnetic). A mandala is a geometric arrangement that reflects one's journey of self-realization. A pizza mandala, well, is maybe the same thing after devouring a pie. 

Pieology served a chicken-base pizza for a limited time

Pizza has over time adopted different kinds of crusts. The cauliflower crust has become old news, compared to the new-on-the-scene broccoli and kale crusts. But what outshone the strangeness of all these other crusts is the chicken pizza crust that Pieology introduced in early 2020 for a limited time (via QSR). The crust was a dream come true for keto-loyalists, as it contained only 2 grams of carbs! In comparison, a wheat-based slice of crust might have around 26 grams of carbs (via Amazon). Made with chicken, cheese, and eggs, the pizza base was all protein, about 44 grams. 

Meanwhile, Pieology hadn't forgotten its vegetarian and vegan patrons. Just a year before launching their all-chicken base, they introduced three choices of plant-based protein toppings such as spicy Italian sausage rounds, beef meatballs, and diced chicken (via PETA). This was only an addition to the vegan-inclusive menu that was already in place. They serve a vegan crust (which is also gluten-free), vegan cheese Daiya, a range of vegan sauce options including sunflower-olive oil blend and fiery buffalo; and a wide range of vegetable toppings.

Pieology is constantly experimenting with its menu items. It rolled out an improved pizza crust, lemonade flavors, and more recently red velvet cookies (via Chew Boom). The chain has a special R&D kitchen in Aliso Viejo, California, where award-winning pizzaiolo Glenn Cybulski keeps reinventing the pie (via The Orange County Register).

Pieology was one of the fastest growing pizza chains in 2015

Just four years after founding the restaurant in 2011, the pizza chain became "the first customizable pizza chain to break into Technomic's annual ranking of the 500 largest restaurant chains," according to Fast Casual. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of Pieology locations increased threefold. Pieology was founded just a few years after Mod Pizza, and in the same year as Blaze; those are the two main competitors in the custom-pizza segment, for Pieology (via The Orange County Register and Restaurant Business).

But Chang realized that after Pieology's success, there were many new pizza places that were trying to replicate their USB. He told the LA Times "everybody started copying us". So in 2016, they strategically bought their rival Project Pie. This aided their expansion into towns they hadn't ventured into before.

The year 2018 marked another milestone. They expanded their presence outside of the United States, starting with Mexico, then Spain (via Franchising.com). In August 2020, while the world had screeched to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pizza chain launched its first location in China, offering a unique and regionalized pizza base made of bamboo charcoal, and the option to use kimchi as a topping (via QSR).