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Fast Casual: International Women’s Day: Q&A with 25 female execs

In celebration of International Women’s Day — March 8 — FastCasual interviewed 25 of the industry’s leading ladies to develop their second annual “Women in the Lead” series.

Each woman shared how she got her start in the restaurant industry, how she worked her way up in a male-dominated field and what guidance she would give to other aspiring female leaders.

Read Natalie French’s, co-Founder of Your Pie, advice and guidance here!

Happy International Women’s Day and International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

Fast Casual: How 1 couple’s love story was the catalyst to a thriving pizza business

During their honeymoon in Italy, high school sweethearts Drew and Natalie French were inspired to create Your Pie. Drew and Natalie fell in love with the hospitality, landscapes, and food found on the island of Ischia where Natalie’s extended family lives. While visiting, family members had brick ovens their backyards and would bake personal sized pizzas with fresh ingredients and smoky, earthy flavors everyday.

“Sitting beside family members on a warm summer evening, we had our ‘aha’ moment. We realized that good, authentic pizza could be done fast and could be done individually. These aspects, combined with an atmosphere of community and relational culture, are what propelled Drew and me to develop Your Pie.”, said French.

Italian culture is embedded in the Your Pie experience today. Your Pie strives for all guests to feel like family at Your Pie. The product, an individual and customized pizza, is reminiscent of the pizza Drew and Natalie experienced while in Italy. Hand-tossed dough, house-made sauces and cooking each pizza in a brick oven adds operational complexity, but the end product is worth it when a customer mentions that it is the best pizza they have ever had.

“Your Pie is so much more than a fast casual pizza joint; it’s an extension of us, our family and the experiences that inspire us. I will never forget how my aunts, uncles and cousins in Ischia made us feel right at home in those first days as husband and wife. Now, we strive to do the same in our 54 restaurants across the country.”

Read the full story here.

See How Your Pie Is Changing The Way You Eat Pizza

Your Pie was just featured in Franchise King!

See How Your Pie Is Changing The Way You Eat Pizza

The Franchise Team

Bucky Cook our CEO was recently published in franchising-today!

Here is the article – Franchising-Today

Your Pie Listens To Franchisee Feedback To Move The Brand Forward In The Right Direction

Your Pie knows that the secret to success often lies in the opinions of its franchisees. After all, they’re the ones engrained in the local communities, experiencing firsthand what works—and what doesn’t work—when it comes to Your Pie’s daily operations.

For that reason, Your Pie has come to value the insight produced from its Franchise Advisory Board. Founded in 2012—a short four years after Your Pie’s founding—the group’s purpose is to help the growing brand move forward in the best direction possible. This is achieved by regularly meeting with and listening to some of the brand’s top-performing franchisees.

“As the brand grew over the years, we realized it was important to get franchise owners involved in the evolution of the brand. By the time we had eight to 10 stores in the Your Pie system, we decided to pick four franchisees to help us out,” said Bucky Cook, the chief executive officer of franchising for Your Pie. “In my past experience, I’ve seen how valuable bringing the best and brightest franchisees together can be for a brand.”

According to Cook, Your Pie uses its Franchise Advisory Board as a sounding board of sorts. Franchisees can come to the brand’s executive team and voice their opinions, their likes and their dislikes. They’re also free to provide insight on where they’d like to see Your Pie go in the years to come.

“Many companies are very top down when it comes to their management. But at Your Pie, we want our franchisees to help us make decisions. We won’t do anything without their buy-in—it’s our job to lead them, not force them,” Cook said. “This helps us understand how the franchise owner is thinking. From the executive perspective, we don’t always see things the way the owners do. They’re on the ground floor of the brand day in and day out, and they can offer a unique perspective that we might not otherwise experience. For that reason, they can help us sift through the good ideas and the bad—the high priority ideas to the lesser priority ideas. It’s important to commit time and resources as a brand to listening to the entire franchise community.”

To date, Your Pie has made several adjustments to their system because of the Franchise Advisory Board. From tedious details to making functional and operational changes, no idea is off limits. And so far, that input has gone a long way.

“We’ve looked at everything. From changes in the way our stores are laid out, to the way the model operates, we’ve made decisions based on the opinions of our experienced franchisees,” Cook said. “We have refocused our marketing and redirected marketing expenditures. These are all changes we wouldn’t have been able to implement without franchisee input. Simply put, having a Franchise Advisory Board is a mechanism we use to sort through priorities as viewed by the franchise owner and the community they’re in—and ultimately, that kind of information is invaluable to a brand’s long-term success.”

Your Pie Sees Room For Three Or Four New Locations Throughout Knoxville.

As Your Pie continues to take over the South with its unique down-the-line pizza concept, the brand has now turned their attention to their next up-and-coming home—Tennessee. With one location in Murfreesboro, Tennessee already, Your Pie has plans to open four more stores in the Nashville area this fall. Up next, the brand is adding Knoxville to its growing domain.

Year after year, Knoxville consistently ranks as one of the nation’s top cities to do business in. According to CNN Money, Knoxville’s business-friendly climate is due to the city’s lack of a state income tax and ease in obtaining a business license. But for Your Pie, one of the city’s biggest draws is its network of universities, which largely accounts for one of the brand’s biggest—and most important—demographics: college students. And that’s because everything Your Pie offers—from its high-quality, hand-made pizzas and unique collection of local craft beers to its commitment to authenticity and tradition—increasingly appeals strongly to younger generations.

“Knoxville is a market we’re intrigued by. It’s a university town, and also a good family town. We do well in Athens, Clemson and Murfreesboro thanks to the high concentration of universities, and we expect the same kind of success in Knoxville,” said Ken Caldwell, the vice president of development for Your Pie. “Your Pie was founded in a college town—so growing in communities like Knoxville is in our blood. But we found that we also do very well with families, day-time lunch crowds and business groups—they’re all a big part of our business, too. Anyone looking for a quick, healthy lunch will find Your Pie appealing.”

Your Pie’s growth throughout Tennessee comes as the brand continues to make a name for itself nationwide. With 33 stores in their system right now, Your Pie has another 49 new stores in development and an additional 80 licenses that have been sold. Caldwell believes that the brand will open 20 to 30 restaurants by the end of this year alone. Earlier this year, Your Pie also boasted an 8.86 percent same-store sales increase when compared to last year—a clear indicator that the brand’s customer loyalty is only growing.

According to Caldwell, Knoxville’s market can accommodate as many as three or four new stores. Now, the brand is looking for community-drive entrepreneurs to help lead the charge.

“In the end, it’s more important that we focus on growing the right way—not growing just to grow. That starts with our franchisees—our best ambassadors are the local guys who live and breathe their community,” Caldwell said. “Our success needs to be sustainable. We firmly believe that our dedication to quality food and quality service will continue to speak for itself—making Your Pie a brand that people will want to be a part of as we continue to expand our reach across the country.”

Your Pie 2016 Franchise Fest Conference Focuses On Franchisees And Teamwork

Annual franchise conventions give brands the chance to network, learn and celebrate – and Your Pie is no exception. The 33-unit originator of the down-the-line, quick-serve, brick-oven, customized personal pizza category has had a watershed year. This year, corporate staff, franchisees and vendors gathered August 17th to 19th at The Georgian Room in downtown Athens, Georgia, covering topics like the fast-growing craft beer segment, the brand’s new charity initiative to end child hunger and a celebration of the culture of family.

“It’s so valuable to have all of the Your Pie family together at Franchise Fest talking about what we all love: craft pizza,” said Your Pie Founder Drew French. “Every year, this event continues to grow, and it’s great to have so many new franchise faces with us. Their passion is part of an amazing vibe surrounding our brand right now, and it makes me more excited than ever about Your Pie’s future. From our dedicated franchisees to our awesome corporate staff, the love of our craft shows through in each Your Pie location, every day,” said French.

Your Pie CEO Bucky Cook added, “Craft pizza continues to be one of the fastest growing segments in fast casual in America, and we’re doing it better than anyone else. Franchise Fest gives us an opportunity to share all of the wisdom and great ideas from our corporate staff and franchisees to help make our system even better.”

Conference speakers included a keynote from Robert Baxley, COO of Zaxby’s, the Your Pie Franchise Advisory Council, Coca-Cola, No Limit Agency, Sofo Foods, Tedrow Designs, DT Productions, Ecolab, Sweetwater Brewing Company and Terrapin Brewery. Athens-based Terrapin Brewery’s address focused on the rise of the IPA movement, noting that 20 years ago, only 60 craft brewers existed in the United States and this year, that number surpassed 1,800 with two craft beer breweries opening per day on average.

“The rise of the craft beer movement in the U.S. is so exciting to see, and it’s such a natural fit for Your Pie to tap into the people behind it,” French added. “As the originator of the craft pizza movement in America, it’s a perfect match for us and it’s one more reason why Your Pie stands apart.”

French also presented the brand’s new charity push – to end child hunger with the “InsPIEring Communities” initiative. Originally introduced in early 2016, franchisees are encouraged to partner with a local organization of their choice to donate pizzas and proceeds raised through any of their Craft Pie Series sales. French encouraged each franchisee to adopt it as a personal cause.

“By this time next year, the goal is for each franchisee to donate 1,000 pizzas, in addition to their time delivering those pizzas to children gripped by hunger. If that happens, Your Pie will have donated more than 40,000 pizzas to children in need in just one year,” said French. “That’s an amazing impact. We want to educate, inspire and give back to the communities we serve, and this is a perfect way to do it.”

Another notable conference event was the annual “Your Pie Olympics,” during which franchisees, corporate staff and vendor partners gathered at Terrapin Brewery to sample Terrapin’s newest offerings, and engage in events like pizza box folding and pizza tossing, as well a competition to create the tastiest new craft pie in a giant outdoor pizza oven. Entries included a bacon mac and cheese pie, a loaded baked potato pie, and a chicken tikka masala pie.

In conjunction with Franchise Fest, Your Fest was also held at Terrapin Brewery on Saturday, August 20th, featuring a variety of local bands, Terrapin beer, and craft pizza creations made by notable local chefs. During the event, $2,000 in cash and 4,444 pizzas were donated to Action Ministries Smart Lunch Smart Kid Program. There were 1,281 total attendants at the event.

Female Franchisees Are Helping To Lead Your Pie’s Growth In Jacksonville, Florida

For a long time, franchising was viewed as a male-dominated industry.

But times change—and so too has that perception. In recent years, as more and more women have entered the workforce in record numbers, a growing percentage of them are taking the entrepreneurial route.

Over the past five years, the amount of women entering the franchising sector has increased 45 percent. According to The International Franchise Association, women now own more than 21 percent of all franchise businesses, and an added 43 percent of franchised businesses are co-owned and operated by men and women together. These numbers paint a telling picture—the gender gap is shrinking. All over the country, women are emerging as leaders within the franchise industry, and they’re not only leading, but also prospering in businesses across all sectors.

Nowhere is this more evident than at Your Pie. Just ask Jennifer Leonard. She had always dreamed about opening her own business. With deep roots planted in Jacksonville, Florida, Leonard wanted to contribute to her community by bringing something to the area that everyone could enjoy. It was also important that the business she invested in was one that fit her lifestyle—it had to take on her personality and her culture.

“I started doing my due diligence and researching franchises and comparing those with good core values, room for growth, family-oriented and a model that was a little different than your classic fast-food operations,” Leonard said. “Your Pie had great rankings on Franchise Times and Forbes and checked off all of the characteristics I was look for.”

According to Leonard, success for her had everything to do with establishing a strong and trustworthy partnership between the franchisee and franchisor. For her, it’s not just about the business, but the values and beliefs of the franchise. She found that in Your Pie.

“We were genuinely excited to bring Your Pie to our local community. Not just because we believe in the product, but because this is a brand that believes in giving back to a community in every way possible. That’s always been important to me, too. They encouraged us to partner with local charities, showing that they really do practice what they preach,” Leonard said. “For me, it was always about being an ambassador for a brand that sends one very important message—that we care.”

Dea Sims, a Your Pie franchisee with two locations in Fleming Island and Jacksonville, Florida, shares a similar story. It was ultimately the authenticity behind the Your Pie brand that convinced her to invest.

“The Your Pie brand is authentic. I tell the Your Pie story of a young couple on their honeymoon that were inspired to carry on the family tradition of great food in the U.S. a dozen times a day. The fact that the story and mission rings true and resonates with our team members, management and guests is critical,” Sims said. “Of course, Your Pie’s mantra of ‘Food First’ also runs a close second with me. All the marketing polish in the world is not going to make up for poor food quality.”

But ultimately, it’s the close alignment with the franchisor’s beliefs and her own that inspired her to make the leap into business ownership.

“If you don’t believe in the business you’re backing, you won’t be successful. Passion goes a long with. I like the fact that Your Pie as a franchisor is young, dynamic and open to ideas from their franchisees. They gave me the encouragement to succeed. I realized that you can create your own destiny and have the opportunity to impact the community,” Sims said. “With Your Pie, the sky’s the limit.”

How Your Pie Founder Drew French Changed The Pizza Industry With A Unique Concept And Strong Knack For Marketing And Sales

When Drew French founded Your Pie nearly ten years ago, he didn’t set out to create another brand to simply exist in the booming pizza industry. He set out to change the game by introducing a concept that no other pizza restaurant offered.

It all started back in 2006 when French was visiting his wife’s family in Ischia, a small volcanic island located outside of Naples, Italy. He was drawn to the region’s use of brick ovens and fresh, crisp dough—the combination created a smoky flavor that he hadn’t experienced anywhere in the U.S. So, he decided to bring the idea back home to Georgia.

“When I first opened Your Pie, we were entering a category that hadn’t been explored yet. That was entirely by design—I wanted to create a specific niche within the craft pizza industry,” said French. “Since day one, the Your Pie brand has been about creating a unique, one of a kind experience for every one of its customers.”

For French, that entrepreneurial spirit and drive to launch something new started long before he ever thought about opening up his own pizza franchise. He’s been involved with sales for as long as he could remember—he even turned his yard raking business into a neighborhood empire while he was growing up.

That’s why it’s no surprise that French decided to study business and marketing while attending the University of Georgia. By taking classes and continuing to work various jobs in the marketing and sales fields, he was able to build up years of experience that helped him successfully launch Your Pie.

“Everything I learned both in my career and in school leading up to Your Pie has played a big role in how I run my business,” French said. “The most important takeaway has been creating something unique—at its core, marketing any business comes down to being able to differentiate yourself and stand out from the competition.”

Your Pie’s down-the-line concept and commitment to a true craft experience definitely stands out. And with plans in the works to add another 49 units to the brand’s rapidly growing system, it’s clear that the brand’s efforts to distance itself from the competition are successful.

“I’m excited to see how Your Pie is improving the communities we serve. There’s no doubt in my mind that by continuing to focus on creating delicious pizza served by the best people, the brand will continue to grow across the country at rapid rates,” said French.

With Its Proven Down-The-Line Pizza Concept, Your Pie Is Positioned To Take Over The Memphis, Tennessee Market

As soon as Your Pie opened its doors for business in Athens, Georgia back in 2008, it was clear that it had the potential to expand across the country and completely change the booming pizza industry. And now, less than a decade later, the innovative pizza brand is turning that growth potential into a successful and strategic development initiative.

With more than 30 locations across the country and dozens of additional restaurants in development, Your Pie has been bringing its down-the-line concept and superior craft pizzas and drinks to new communities at rapid rates. That trend isn’t going to stop any time soon—the brand is actively targeting a new city for development: Memphis, Tennessee.

“We’re really excited about breaking into the Memphis market. We already have one Tennessee location a few hours away in Murfreesboro, and it’s a clear hit among consumers,” said Ken Caldwell, Your Pie’s vice president of development. “Memphis is another city filled with people who are right in our demographic, including students and the next generation of millennial consumers. We’re confident that as soon as we open up our doors for business in the area, our franchisees will be able to establish loyal customer bases.”

In addition to providing Your Pie franchisees with a strong group of consumers, Memphis also boasts an economy that’s primed for new business. The city offers a metro population of more than 1.3 million people, according to Forbes, with its cost of living falling 4.2 percent below the national average.

Your Pie’s proven franchise system also helps its local business owners succeed. The brand’s corporate support team and network of other franchisees are easily accessible, meaning new and expanding owners are able to learn from other peoples’ experiences and best industry practices. Your Pie also offers an affordable business model—initial investments for franchisees typically range from $311,750 and $475,105.

“Now that we’ve been opening up locations in different communities for almost 10 years, we really know what we need to succeed in a new city. That’s why we feel so strongly about our growth potential in Memphis—it’s perfectly positioned for the Your Pie brand, and we can’t wait to call it home,” Caldwell said.

To learn more about franchising opportunities with Your Pie, click here.