A lot of companies are getting into the fast casual pizza market these days, but most tend to concentrate on the bottom line, rather than the quality of their product.
That suits Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria CEO and co-founder Glenn Cybulksi just fine. With almost all of the competition concentrating on the money making side of the business, that leaves Cybulski and co-founding partner Joseph Baumel as the two exceptions in the industry; the ones who decided to instead concentrate on the quality of the product.
Between the two of them, they have the credentials to deliver a top quality product, too. Cybulski is a certified Italian pizzaiolo, a columnist and speaker for Pizza Today magazine and an instructor at the School of Pizzeria Management. Not to mention the recipient of more than 125 culinary awards. Baumel, meanwhile, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Together, they opened their first corporate store in February of 2013 in Santa Barbara, CA, where the Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria headquarters are also located.
Persona offers customers the opportunity to create their own authentic Neapolitan pizza or choose from Persona’s list of award-winning pizzas.
“It’s based on high-quality, truly Neapolitan pizza. That’s what differentiates us from all the rest that have started the choose-your-own-ingredients restaurants. We’ve taken that extra step to make sure the quality is there, and bring the public a truly fast-fired pizza,” said Cybulksi, noting that all the pizzas come in one size – 12 inches – and are crafted from 00 flour and Italian tomatoes, combined with locally sourced fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses.
Each pizza takes only 90 seconds to bake using imported “Marra Forni” ovens that are 300 degrees hotter than most eateries.
Today, with one location currently open and operating in Santa Barbara, California and a second slated to open in Santa Rosa, California in May, Persona plans to have as many as 200 locations nationwide in the next five years. Development deals have already been signed in South Florida, South Carolina and Texas totaling nearly 30 units. They also have deals in different stages of development in New Jersey, Arizona and Southern California.
Cybulski said his ideal franchisee candidate would be someone who is organized in the way they function. Anybody who has been in management or worked in higher executive roles in companies would likely be a good fit for Persona.
He also pinpointed people who have been in the military, police, or who have been involved in fire fighting as people he would consider for franchise development. “Basically, anyone who has been in an organized system with operations and procedures and who can follow that system would be the best kind of franchisee to have. People who like structure and know that structure is important to being successful would suit the company,” he said.
Taking Fast Casual to New Heights
With pizza in the U.S. being a $34 billion per year industry, there is always a need for more pizza places. In particular, though, there is a need for pizza of high quality that can get to people quickly, the CEO said.
“The need is being driven by the palate of the Millennials and the generations that are coming up; people who want better quality food, but who still want fast service and affordable prices,” Cybulski said.
Persona’s 12-inch Margherita pizza is $7.95, so it’s less expensive than high end restaurants, yet it is made from the finest ingredients available and it’s being made — and cooked — in 90 seconds, rather than five minutes.
The franchise has the ability to make fresh pizza so fast that they’re even in the initial planning stages of setting up a drivethrough. “This is something we’re going to be testing soon,” he added.
The Persona Difference
According to Cybulski, almost all the players in the fast casual pizza industry have been started by fast casual restaurant professionals rather than pizza professionals. And while they understand systems and procedures well, their product suffers. They tend to copy each other and don’t know how to properly make pizza. Persona, on the other hand, is the only pizzeria that has gone to franchise that is run by a certified Italian pizza chef, the only one that has gone to franchise that is creating a high quality Neapolitan pizza, and one of the only concepts in the industry cooking their pizzas on imported Italian wood fired stoves in 90 seconds or less.
Training and Support
Persona provides two weeks of franchisee training at the corporate headquarters and restaurant in Santa Barbara, followed by an additional two weeks of training at the franchisee’s location. Support starts when they open. The company has created secure and private web portals for franchisees to log onto and get all Persona branded information, new recipes, training videos, and marketing and promotions material. In addition, when a franchisee hires a general manager, they can either send that general manager to the corporate headquarters to get trained — which is recommended — or they can use the web portal to quickly bring them up to speed.
Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria definitely wants their competition to keep focusing on cutting costs to increase their bottom line … they’ll keep their focus on delivering the best pizza possible for long term success.