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Pizza Marketplace: When pizza brands take root: Franchisee’s tips on growing your pizzeria’s community connections

In the restaurant world, most decisions are made with the bottom line in mind. Factors like guest experience, inventory selection and employee hiring contribute to your business plan and are filtered through the lens of profitability.

Your Pie franchisee Lisa Maclellan

But what if your business was designed to support more than just the bottom line? What if your restaurant existed to better the community beyond its walls? It may sound counter intuitive, but our family has found that when you prioritize people over profits, success is a natural byproduct.

My husband and I own two Your Pie locations, and we’ve determined that every dollar given, every pizza donated and hour spent serving our local communities reaps an invaluable return: guest loyalty. Since opening our first restaurant in 2015, we’ve seen firsthand the tremendous impact of word-of-mouth marketing.

The best way to get people to talk about you? Reach out to talk about them. Listen for the need in your local community, and then see how you can help. Supporting the local causes that matter most to your guests allows you to communicate your personal and corporate mission through actions rather than words, while also building community roots that will support and nourish your business.

Choose your causes wisely

When choosing a local philanthropy, it’s important to do your research. Every franchise brand has a corporate mission statement, but what does your individual restaurant stand for specifically?

With our business, we strive to improve lives of our community and our team. As part of our community focus, we look for ways to support local schools, parent-teacher groups and community organizations.

Likewise, as an Atlanta small business we are well aware that poverty is a real issue here, so we try to band with local organizations that address those issues. We do what we do best by making delicious pizzas, while our partner organizations make sure they get to those in need. In other words, whether it’s a national nonprofit, school district or charity, look for causes that mean something to you, your team and your community and go from there.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to tap into the expertise of your guests, as well. We’ve often asked our guests directly to help us find partner organizations. Likewise, sometimes organizations find us.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with many local organizations in our two markets, including the network of local congregations providing assistance to the homeless, called Family Promise, and the neighborhood assistance organization and food pantry, Community Assistance Center.

As owners, we’re biased toward more hands-on, tangible assistance organizations and we tend to donate pizzas over checks. We feel that if folks can taste our delicious pizza, while we’re filling a need. That’s a win-win scenario for us.

But, don’t forget to track your pizza contributions in order to quantify the impact. For instance, though we’ve yet to meet an organization that turns down free pizzas, it’s invaluable to find consistent, true partners that you believe in and also value you. That’s where the giving becomes increasingly significant to local communities and businesses.

Develop a reflex for intentional giving 

Companies that effectively implement a community involvement strategy typically do so as part of an overall sustainable business strategy. They understand that giving back can take many different forms.

When we opened our first restaurant in Dunwoody, Georgia, we partnered with a local organization for a three-day Dine & Donate event that led up to our grand opening. In those three days, we served free pizza for up to 400 registered guests per day in exchange for monetary donations to our charity partner, in this case the Lighthouse Family Retreat that offers family retreats to those living through childhood cancer. Likewise, we gave part of our first week’s sales to the organization, along with a donation from a matching partner.

We find this approach has two benefits for our business. First, it allows our team to practice handling high traffic at the restaurant in a relatively low-stakes environment, since the meals are free. Next, it shows customers right off the bat that we’re here to support the community before we even make our first dollar. In fact, now  we’ve continued this grand opening tradition at of our second Grant Park location in Atlanta.

We’ve also chosen to align most major business milestones with a giveback. For example, at our Perimeter store’s fourth anniversary party earlier this year, we pledged to donate a pizza or panini to someone in need for every pizza sold at the event. We sold 580 pizzas the day of the anniversary and over the next year will work with local partners to give 580 pizzas or paninis to those in need.

Giving … and receiving

Franchisees are local entrepreneurs and small business owners who are not only active community members, but we believe also important players in helping cross-promote other business, co-host events together and even feature some of their products in our store.

By way of example, when our parking deck at our Grant Park restaurant closed shortly after we opened for nearly a year, we three a party when it reopened with help from our landlord, next-door-neighbor, Farm Burger and local brewery, Eventide.

By combining our efforts, the event was bigger, better and served as a wider platform to relaunch our business with the parking closure behind us. Championing other local businesses can help brands establish their names as good neighbors.

So consider taking a second look at your community involvement as part of your long-term business strategy. It definitely requires extra effort, but the ROI is sometimes immeasurable.

Lisa and  Morgan Maclellan own Atlanta-area Your Pie locations in Grant Park and Perimeter. 

Q&A with Dave McDougall, Your Pie COO

In December 2018, we announced our new Chief Operating Officer, Dave McDougall. Dave brings more than 30 years of franchise operations experience from organizations like Back Yard Burgers, NexCen Brands, FOCUS Brands and more. We recently sat down with Dave to discuss findings from his first 90 days and what’s ahead, including his strategy for growing sales and profitability at Your Pie.

Q: What has surprised you the most in your first 90 days with Your Pie?

A: The culture has really surprised me. I’ve never seen such unbridled passion from both franchise owners and corporate support teams. There’s truly a sense of family, and everyone works very collaboratively to address challenges and assess opportunities. I think a company’s culture is always a reflection of its leadership, and this definitely rings true of founder Drew French and CEO Bucky Cook, who truly want to do right by Your Pie’s, franchisees, customers, associates and communities.

Q: What is your biggest priority for Your Pie in 2019?

A: One of my top priorities has been helping Your Pie define our purpose as a franchisor. We want to be a great partner for our franchisees, and we want to lead with credibility. We have to filter every initiative through the lens of the franchisee, and that means asking: “How will this improve unit-level economics, the customer experience?” We’re doing some marketing research and development, and we have already identified some initial opportunities to improve things like cost of labor, vendor pricing, point-of-sale technology and more. Everything we produce and introduce needs to be thoroughly vetted and have a place within the overarching strategy to support franchisee profitability.

Q: Do franchisees get to speak into this strategy directly?

A: Absolutely. There aren’t many franchise brands out there where franchisees have direct access to the senior leadership—but here, they do. We also have a peer-elected franchise advisory board that represents the system and speaks into major strategic decisions. Plus, we run an annual franchisee satisfaction survey and use those results to help develop objectives each year. We have established benchmarks for where we want to rank in marketing, operations, training, etc., and actively work to improve satisfaction within each of those fields year over year. At the end of the day, transparency is key. We will make mistakes from time to time but want our franchisees to know they can count on us to fix them. Their input and participation can only make us better.

Q: Are there any specific initiatives you’d like to share about?

A: For the organization right now, one of the biggest investments we’re making is in technology.  The way that people are engaging with restaurants is changing very, very quickly, and a significant amount of orders are coming through digital platforms. We have to make sure our systems are optimized to provide the best possible experience for both customers and our store teams.

We’re also rolling out a new franchisee orientation program where new store owners will meet with all department heads for a full overview of what to expect in the next 6-12 months to get their store open. We know the development process can be very stressful, and we believe the process is made exponentially better with face-to-face communication on the front end.

Q: As the fast casual pizza landscape becomes increasingly competitive, what are Your Pie’s biggest opportunities to stand out?

A: There are some strong competitors out there, but I truly believe we have superior food. Our hand-tossed dough makes a huge difference in the final product, and our menu development is unparalleled. In a crowded landscape, we have to remember that every guest interaction counts. Our service and hospitality have to be better than everywhere else. More than anything, we have to get creative in how we’re communicating our differentiators to customers.

Q: What would you say to someone considering Your Pie as a franchise?

A: At Your Pie, you get more than a franchise—you get a whole team of people behind you who want to see you succeed. Everything we’re doing and that we’ve talked about doing is meant to support the franchisee experience, from both a culture and sales perspective. We’re also backed by an investment group called Georgia Oak Partners, which affords us access to phenomenal resources, including our Chairman, David Barr. David is a multi-unit franchisee himself and sits on the board of a number of well known franchise companies. He has a deep understanding of the franchise landscape, both as a franchisee and franchisor.

Q: Where do you see Your Pie in 10 years?

A: In 10 years, I hope Your Pie will continue to be known as a compelling investment opportunity for new and existing franchisees, and known for doing good in the communities where we operate. Rather than give a quantifiable growth goal around how many units we’ll be operating, I’d rather focus on having successful restaurants. I hope that we’ll be seen as a great franchisor and a great partner, and looked upon as a leader in our category.

Interested in learning more about franchise opportunities at Your Pie? Email [email protected] to connect with a franchise sales specialist. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Ideal Your Pie Franchisee

At Your Pie, we have the privilege of helping entrepreneurs nationwide take control of their future through franchising. If you’ve ever explored franchise opportunities, you know firsthand just how many concepts are out there and how confusing the process can be. Our franchise development team is here to support potential candidates every step of the way—from navigating the complexities of the franchise process to determining the best concept and culture fit for their lifestyle. We understand the magnitude of a franchise investment, and we don’t take our responsibility lightly.

From initial interest to grand opening day, our team works alongside franchisees to create a successful partnership and position their new business to flourish in its local market. We look beyond a candidate’s financials to evaluate on a more holistic level—and in doing so, have established a very intentional, sustainable growth model. From my years of experience talking with interested candidates, I’ve identified a few key factors that make up an ideal Your Pie franchisee:

Shared Values – We seek franchisees who are committed to seeing Your Pie become an integral part of their communities. These leaders are already enthusiastic about connecting with local organizations, causes and schools and are driven to make an impact. Time and time again, community involvement has proven to be a strong, authentic foundation for growing a successful Your Pie franchise.

Teamwork – Once the agreement is signed, our franchisees become valued members of the Your Pie Family. As with any family, we celebrate success and work through opportunities together. We look for individuals who are excited about the prospect of collaborating with and contributing to our franchise system. This close-knit culture allows franchisees across the system to learn from one another and improve the Your Pie experience for everyone.

Leadership Ability – Strong leadership inspires a strong team. Our top franchise owners have an innate passion for developing teams by recognizing employees’ unique gifts and helping to translate those into tangible skills that serve the business at all levels. Our franchisees also benefit from strong leadership at the corporate level, where seasoned industry executives are continually developing strategies to grow store sales and improve the franchisee experience.

Investment – The investment in owning a Your Pie goes beyond the financials. Of course our franchisees must meet net worth qualifications, but we also want to make sure they fit the Your Pie culture and are invested in the brand’s long-term success. The best way to position our owners for success is to align with franchisees who share our vision for improving communities by changing the way people experience pizza.

These are just some of the factors we consider when pursuing franchisee relationships that are mutually beneficial to our brand and each individual. If you’re interested in learning more about franchise opportunities at Your Pie, you can reach out to [email protected] to discuss. We look forward to connecting with you!

Forbes: CEOs Who Are Transforming Customer Experience

Drew French, President and Founder of Your Pie, discussed the importance of the customer experience with Forbes contributor, Robert Reiss. “Having the best product in the category doesn’t matter if your customer experience is not of equal caliber. At Your Pie, maintaining consistent operational outputs is the first step, and we build upon that by learning our customers’ names, making a second table touch and providing an experience that creates a shareable moment.” explained French.

Read the full article here.

Your Pie Hires New Chief Operating Officer

Your Pie, the 10-year-old fast-casual pizza concept, has tapped the former CEO of Back Yard Burgers as the company’s first chief operating officer.

Dave McDougall, who left Back Yard Burgers in the spring, will oversee operations and marketing at Your Pie “with an emphasis on market research and new product development

to help hone and strengthen the brand’s voice while fueling franchise growth,” the Athens, Ga.-based chain said.

Your Pie founder and president Drew French said McDougall steps into the newly created role as the chain, which has more than 60 units, looks to expand its national footprint. The build-your-own pizza brand, which hand tosses its dough and cooks pizza in a brick oven, has 50 more stores in development.

“Dave will help us to navigate high-volume growth while maintaining the unique experience that has always defined the Your Pie brand,” French said in a statement. “We look forward to increasing our current momentum under Dave’s leadership and are excited to see how his expertise will amplify our brand.”

McDougall has more  than 30 years of experience in franchise operations and development. He led a turnaround at Back Yard Burgers after the chain emerged from bankruptcy. Previously, at Focus Brands, he led the marketing team during the international expansion of Cinnabon. McDougall said he’ll be focused on laying the foundation for the brand’s next 10 years of success.

“I have always been passionate about the franchise model, and as chief operating officer, I plan to place tremendous focus on current franchisees and how we can best support them while maintaining steady growth,” he said in a statement.

A Note from Drew: 10 Year Anniversary Wrap-up

This year, we had the privilege of celebrating 10 years of Your Pie. We knew we wanted to commemorate the anniversary in a big way by celebrating all of the people and experiences that brought us to this point, so we decided to thank the Your Pie Family with a series of giveaways over the course of three months. Throughout the summer, we rolled out six limited-edition pizza boxes, each uniquely designed to illustrate different facets of the Your Pie story. To enter each of our giveaways, guests simply had to share a photo of their pizza box on social media using the hashtag #expressyourinnerpizza.

Each of our giveaways was related to the Your Pie story in some way. For those of you who don’t know, Natalie and I came up with the Your Pie concept while honeymooning in Ischia, Italy—a small island off the coast of Naples. Gelato was a huge part of our honeymoon trip, and we knew that our brick-oven pizza concept would have to feature authentic, Italian-style gelato. For our first 10-year giveaway, we offered a trip to Florida, featuring a one-of-a-kind tasting with our Italian gelato purveyor, GS Gelato.

Next, we offered a Dine & Donate event to raise funds for a local charity of the winner’s choosing. Community is a core value at Your Pie, and each of our new stores hosts three days of Dine & Donate events benefiting local charities prior to their grand opening. For our 10th anniversary, it seemed like natural fit to gift one of our loyal customers with a special Dine & Donate event for a local cause close to their heart.

Other giveaways included a waived franchise fee for a qualified winner, and a handmade table from Your Pie’s artisan table vendor, Made in Monroe. Customers collected boxes all summer long to enter each of these giveaways—but many had their sights set higher, on our grand prize: a $5,000 trip to Ischia, Italy. To be eligible for the grand prize, customers had to collect all six artfully designed pizza boxes and arrange them to form one cohesive image. They then had to share a photo of that image on social media with the same hashtag, #expressyourinnnerpizza, and a caption sharing their Your Pie story.

We awarded the grand prize trip to Tony and Jennifer Esposito, a couple who got married on Ischia 10 years ago! We were blown away by how closely their story aligned with our own—they even shared photos from their Ischian wedding with their entry. Natalie and I are always surprised when someone else has even heard of Ischia, nonetheless traveled there. Tony and Jennifer’s story started on Ischia 10 years ago, and we are thrilled to send them back to where it all began.

Our customers’ stories are what make Your Pie special and what inspires each of us to get up every day and work toward continual innovation and improvement. We’re so thankful to everyone who participated in our 10th anniversary giveaways this summer and look forward to stepping into Decade Two with you.

Lastly, I would be remiss to let this milestone pass without recognizing the dedication and hard work of the franchise owners and corporate team who live the Your Pie mission daily.  We truly could not do it without you. As we look toward next 10 years, I am grateful for the roots we have planted and am excited to watch those continue to flourish in new and existing communities, in the hearts of our team, and in our lasting commitment to quality and service. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for sharing in this journey with us. Here’s to Decade Two!

QSR: 16 Young Restaurant Leaders to Watch

Drew French, founder of Your Pie, was named one of 16 Young Restaurant Leaders to Watch by QSR magazine.

5 Things You Should Know About Your Pie


Founders Drew and Natalie French first conceptualized Your Pie while honeymooning with family in Ischia, Italy. From hand-tossed dough to brick oven cooking, all 50+ locations retain authentic Italian influence. Full story via Fast Casual!


Your Pie’s rotating Craft Series menu features inventive, seasonal recipes. The fan-favorite Peach Prosciutto Pie was named one of America’s Most Innovative Menu Items and earned founder Drew French a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team.


Community is integral to the Your Pie experience. Throughout the year, Your Pie stores nationwide support schools, charities and other local causes. Learn how Your Pie Perimeter owners Morgan & Lisa Maclellan chose to support their community.


Your Pie’s executive team includes both millennial leadership, like founder Drew French, and industry veterans, like CEO Bucky Cook. Learn more about Your Pie’s multigenerational leadership in this Forbes article.


Your Pie launched the fast-casual pizza category 10 years ago and hasn’t slowed down since. We’re celebrating a decade of Your Pie with some exciting activations starting next month. Stay tuned for more!

Beer Heroes: Father & Son Franchisee Duo

Paul and Michael Childers, the father/son franchisee team in Savannah, GA are some of Your Pie’s earliest adopters and have been Craft Beer advocates from day one. They made the decision to join the Your Pie family after visiting Athens in December of 2009, and opened Savannah Downtown in 2010 and Savannah Sandfly in 2011. Last year they took the plunge with Store Number 3 in Pooler, GA last year and they anticipate a fourth store by 2019.

The duo’s success is primarily attributed to their Food First mentality, one of Your Pie’s Core Values, that will eventually lead them to open a fourth store.

“To us, Food First means that there are no exceptions for the quality of product that you put out. It’s about having the right ingredients, and making each pizza up to standard every time if it doesn’t meet the standard then it needs to go. Teaching that, explaining that, is one of the most important things we do here: the team member should be in the mindset that every pizza we make should be up to par.” according to Michael.

Michael and Paul have been in the Your Pie family since day one and are huge advocates for innovation in the franchise. “From my perspective, it has always been about the food. If it didn’t taste good we wouldn’t have gotten into this brand at the very beginning. On our first visit, we were won over once we walked inside, tasted the food, and saw the interior and the people. Never mind what we do with all our fancy marketing and brand presentation and all that, if the food sucks, that stuff doesn’t matter,” said Paul.

Award Winning Craft Pizza Returns to Your Pie

Your Pie announced the return of its award-winning Craft Series offering, the Peach Prosciutto Pie, now available through August 8.

The pie features a base of fresh olive oil and creamy ricotta, topped with savory prosciutto and a blend of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

The rich flavors are then topped with fresh peaches and baked to perfection in Your Pie’s signature brick oven. After baking, the pie is finished with fresh basil and a house-made Honey Balsamic Glaze. Like all Your Pie pizzas, the Peach Prosciutto is made with hand-tossed dough, fresh ingredients and baked to order in a brick oven, per Italian tradition.

The savory-sweet earned Your Pie Founder Drew French a spot on the United States Pizza Team, where he competed at the 2016 World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy. In Summer 2017, the Pie was named one of America’s Most Innovative Menu Items by QSR Magazine.

Read the full story here.