Thursday, October 22, 2015

Whole Lotta Pizza Love for Millennials, Your Pie Top Guy

That’s right. Those 18-34-year-old iPhone-jabbing control freaks are the demanding demographic  driving the restaurant business to change from its traditional come-to-us strategy to a new go-to-them reality. Look, I’m 58 and I remember when I thought anyone over 40 was ancient and spent. They didn’t even get that Led Zeppelin invented hard rock and are empirically incomprehensible at less than 11 on your Kenwood volume knob—right on Spinal Tap! Now I find the kids—anyone under 40—interminably annoying with their Tweeting and Snapchatting and that no-talent Kardashian chick. Except, sometimes you meet really young, talented entrepreneurs who are not only cool, but are spearheading consumer transformation in this country. Some of them even appreciate old-school quality. 

Meet Drew French, Your Pie founder and owner of five pizzerias in the 24-store pioneer fast-casual chain that most recently opened a franchise in Chicago. French stole the show, winning the 2015 Pizzaiolo Ultisimo (Ultimate Pizza Makers Challenge) at The Sofo Foods Expo in Atlanta Oct. 4. The experience was just peachy for the Athens, Georgia-based pizza innovator who crafted a Georgia Peach and Prosciutto Pie that judges voted No.1 after shaking off their doubts. “Peaches,” y'all. Really?"

French’s fruit brainstorm earned him a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team.  “I had to leave the event early, but when I got the call that I had won I was very excited and proud to represent Your Pie, where ‘Food First’ is our mentality,” French says. “My wife is originally from the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples, Italy, so the peach-topped pizza was my attempt to blend two cultures in a taste profile that really comes together.”

A respect for Italian pizza tradition while embracing regionally sourced ingredients, tossed with a deep commitment to customer autonomy. That’s the formula that has fueled Your Pie’s ride to six-state success.  “We invented the fast-casual concept in 2008, which predated our competitors by about four years,” French says without a hint of arrogance. “We make our 10-inch personal pizzas in front of our customers in a brick oven using their choice of 8 sauces, 40 toppings and 8 cheeses. We pair our pizzas with craft beer and wine and also serve great salads and paninis.  We take pride in working hard to make the best pizza in the world—Italian in inspiration, blended with fresh, home-grown American ingredients.”

French shared his story during a phone conversation while he drove down the Georgia interstate with the giggles of his little daughter intermittently interrupting our pizza chat. It was cool to know that this young, trend-setting pizza impresario was leading dynamic industry evolution while taking care of family business. OK, Millennials can be really awesome, I guess. Heck, I’m the father of five of them myself. Takes a Whole Lotta Love. I wonder if the Your Pie guy has a favorite Zeppelin tune.