LA-based PizzaRev: The next big thing in fast casual

Southern California’s PizzaRev aims to do for pizza what Chipotle has done for burritos. The young chain got its start in April 2012 with a “test kitchen” in Northridge, Calif., and, amid stellar Yelp! reviews and robust sales, is already on the verge of opening its third location, with more units planned for 2013.

This is Part One of our newest Case Study series, providing a first-ever insider’s look into the conception and growth of a fast-casual chain. In interviews over the next few months, the senior management team from PizzaRev, along with Exclusive Broker and X Team International Partner Bob Haas, have agreed to share candid insights into the behind-the-scenes successes and challenges experienced as they work to expand and build the PizzaRev brand.   

Quick Facts about PizzaRev:
What: Fast-casual, “craft your own” artisanal pizza restaurant
Who: Partners and Co-CEOs Rodney Eckerman and Irv Zuckerman, Partner and COO Nicholas Eckerman, Partner and CMO Jeff Zuckerman Exclusive Broker Bob Haas, X Team International Partner and Co-Founder of L.A.-based Cypress Retail Group
Current number of stores: 2 (store No. 3 to open in November 2012)
Average size: Two prototypes, 1,700 sq. ft. and 2,600 sq. ft.
Website: Pizzarev.com

LA-based PizzaRev: The next big thing in fast casual
Last summer, the founders of what would eventually become PizzaRev surveyed the fast-casual landscape and spotted a vacancy: While the likes of Chipotle and Panera Bread were rolling out new locations and raking in billions of dollars, the quick-serve sector lacked an equivalent concept for one of the most popular foods in America — pizza. “When we looked at the expansion of new models over the past few years, it was clear to us that the pizza space was ripe for something new,” said Rodney Eckerman, co-CEO and founding partner of PizzaRev.

PizzaRev’s customers craft their own pies by selecting from an artisanal array of sauces, cheeses and toppings. The 11-inch pizzas are cooked in about three minutes using a 900-degree, stone-hearth oven. Each pie costs less than $8. “We have 30-plus toppings, but one of our points of difference is that there is no up-charge,” said Irv Zuckerman, partner and co-CEO. “Whether you put three meats, five veggies or some combination of the above, the price is always the same.” For most Americans, Zuckerman adds, higher-quality pizza has always been a dinner or late-night item. Office workers, for instance, tend to steer clear of sit-down pizza restaurants for lunch because of the slow menu service. “But when you can get a thin-and-crispy, Roman-style pizza customized exactly as you want it — and all in less than three minutes — it is a perfect lunchtime option,” Zuckerman said.

Today, PizzaRev is up and running with two bustling restaurants in the Los Angeles area. The Northridge test kitchen opened in April and was followed five months later by a second location in Studio City. A third PizzaRev is set to open in mid-November near the Westfield Topanga Mall in Woodland Hills. “We have other stores that are unannounced but are lined up for early 2013,” Eckerman noted. “In the past six months, we have opened a store every two to three months, on average, and we plan to continue with that pace.”

Eckerman and Zuckerman began brainstorming on the project in summer 2011 along with their two sons, Nicholas Eckerman and Jeff Zuckerman. Early in the process, they met with and chose Bob Haas, X Team International partner and co-founder of L.A.-based Cypress Retail Group, as their exclusive real estate broker. “Frankly, I have been amazed at what this team has accomplished so far,” said Haas, who is helping PizzaRev find sites and negotiate leases. “In the city of Los Angeles, it is not unusual to wait six or eight months just to receive permitting for a new location. These guys went from the drawing board with a brand-new concept, all the way to a successful grand opening of their first location in that same timeframe.”

How did the team meet such daunting deadlines? Both Zuckerman and Eckerman started their careers by launching their own successful entertainment companies. Both firms were eventually acquired by SFX Entertainment, where Zuckerman took charge of talent-procurement and Eckerman headed operations. In the fast-paced entertainment business, deadlines are serious business so PizzaRev’s partners are accustomed to making things happen quickly. They also have years of experience in food and beverage. “Irv and I actually did about $100 million in F&B through our arenas, theaters, amphitheaters and other entertainment properties,” Eckerman said. Nicholas has worked in the food & beverage industry for years, starting with Ritz-Carlton where his training ranged from working in the kitchen to running operations. In fact, the younger Eckerman developed both the recipe and the preparation process for PizzaRev’s dough. Jeff Zuckerman, meanwhile, spent years in concert promotions and has already put those lessons to use at PizzaRev. “Thanks to Jeff, who has a master’s degree in marketing, we are promotions-oriented,” said Zuckerman. “Jeff is using parameters and techniques you do not commonly find in the restaurant business.”

A sharp focus on brand is part of that approach. In deciding on a name, for example, the team weighed many factors — everything from how it would look on a logo or a sign, to how it tested in focus groups at an Apple store. “We talked about ‘PizzaRevolution,’ but in the end we determined that the cooler way to go would be to let people decide on their own what ‘Rev’ meant,” Zuckerman explained. “Does it mean revved up? Reverb? Revolution? We liked that there was a bit of a question.”

The partners plan to grow the chain’s footprint in dense SoCal markets by opening company-operated stores. Franchising might eventually be part of the picture, but the priority is to perfect the model and preserve quality, Eckerman said. “On Yelp! and elsewhere, we’re at the top of the list of best-rated pizza restaurants in Los Angeles, so we also want to maintain our strong customer reviews,” he said.

So far, PizzaRev has built prototypes of 1,700 sq. ft. and 2,600 sq. ft. The visual focal point for both is the chain’s stone-bed oven. “The oven is always the centerpiece,” Zuckerman said. “We complement that with surrounding elements of stainless-steel, glass and wood. It’s important for us to provide a pleasing space for our customers.”

Regarding real estate, the chain is looking for sites in dense markets near major draws like malls, universities and office complexes, Haas said. “Moving forward, PizzaRev will be going after pure ‘A’ sites in terms of visibility, access and identity,” he said.

For now, PizzaRev is building its brand in and around Southern California. But given the speed of its rollout thus far, not to mention the enthusiastic response of its customers, it’s likely PizzaRev will expand into other diverse markets across the country at some point in the near future.


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