Overall, 2015 was a good year for the president and CEO of RAVE Restaurant Group, the Colony-based company that owns the Pizza Inn and Pie Five chains. Even though Randy Gier was running two brands with wildly divergent challenges.
Industry veteran Gier, who owns 1.5 percent of the holding company (Nasdaq: RAVE), was named EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 for the Southwest region in the hospitality category. Pie Five, a fast-casual concept that’s to pizza what Chipotle is to burritos, enjoyed a 151 percent sales increase over 2014 in the quarter ended Dec. 27, 2015. And the concept opened 14 new restaurants in the period, bringing its total to 82.
Gier sees the Pie Five chain expanding to a whopping 500 stores over the next five years, up from just three in 2011. “When you’ve got something that solves problems that people have, they take to it,” he says.
With locations—more than half of them franchise operations—in 24 states and the District of Columbia, Pie Five offers patrons the choice of four crusts, seven sauces, and 28 fresh toppings. The pies bake in about two minutes in custom-designed, state-of-the-art ovens and cost less than $7.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Gier since he joined RAVE in 2012.
Despite Pie Five’s success, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Gier since he joined RAVE, formerly Pizza Inn Holdings, in 2012. That’s because the 55-year-old Kansas City native, a former top executive with PepsiCo and Yum! Brands’ Pizza Hut and KFC divisions, also is attempting to turn around RAVE’s struggling legacy brand, Pizza Inn. Founded in Dallas in 1958, Pizza Inn once boasted more than 500 locations before letting “quality decline over time,” Gier concedes. The brand now has 171 U.S. stores in 15 states and 71 locations overseas (mostly in the Middle East). In the U.S. they’re mainly value-priced buffet operations owned by franchisees in small towns in the south and southeast.
So, what is Gier’s strategy for resurrecting Pizza Inn? “It’s really about the basics. The brand has a fan base, and you’ve got to give your fans something to cheer about,” he says. “So we’re reinstituting improved quality—retraining employees about the dough, for example, changing the sauce. We’re also getting our franchisees better aligned with the brand through marketing programs. We’ve begun to build momentum.”
While Pizza Inn same-store sales declined by 1.7 percent in the quarter ended Dec. 27, Gier says the brand was “overlapping strong prior-year results.” And, the company has finally begun opening a few new locations.
Buoyed by such hopeful signs, Gier isn’t turning down the heat at RAVE, whose fiscal 2015 revenue topped $48 million. Just now he’s keeping his eye on a couple of scrappy Pie Five competitors: one company called Blaze Pizza in California, and another called MOD Pizza out of Washington state. In addition, Gier says, “we have aspirations to buy or create two or three other fast-casual brands.” Possibilities include a salad concept, or maybe one focusing on Mediterranean fare.