The past year has been a very busy one on the restaurant front, with a steady diet of eateries opening across the Columbus area or starting construction to have their doors welcoming guest in 2017. It’s almost as if this might be the time to take a deep breath and digest all that has occurred.
That’s not the plan, however, for the nation’s fifth-largest pizza player, Papa Murphy’s, which is now targeting the Columbus market along with other mid-size cities across the Southeast.
When the flour settles, the rapidly growing take-and-bake pizza chain based in Vancouver, Wash., expects to have five stores in Columbus, one in Opelika-Auburn, Ala., one in West Point, Ga., and one in Americus, Ga.
That’s according to Gary Payne, Papa Murphy’s vice president of franchise sales and an Atlanta native now extolling the virtues of taking a freshly made pizza — never frozen — and popping it in your own oven when it’s time to eat.
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“Folks take it home and make it themselves when they’re ready for it,” he said. “While that might sound inconvenient, the consumers find it to be very convenient. They actually cook the product when they’re ready to eat it rather than it show up after it has been cooked a half hour ago.”
Payne said Papa Murphy’s has more than 1,500 stores in 38 states, with a heavy concentration of those out West. The company is committed to adding about 120 locations in 2016 and that looks to be the proverbial tip of the pepperoni.
“When you talk about pizza, we’re the fifth largest pizza player, the top four being — no surprise — Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Little Caesars,” he said. “But we do it a little bit differently … It’s a take-and-bake product. The operations we have are fairly simple. You don’t have freezers. You don’t have microwaves. You don’t cook anything in the store. They’re basically a food preparation kitchen.”
The Papa Murphy’s menu includes more traditional pizzas with names such Cowboy, Hawaiian and Chicken Garlic. There also are gourmet offerings like Herb Chicken Mediterranean, Angus Steak & Roasted Garlic, Chicken Bacon Artichoke, Gourmet Vegetarian and Spicy Fennel Sausage. There also is the Big Murphy’s Stuffed, the Chicago-style Stuffed and 5-Meat Stuffed. Salads, sides and dessert items are part of the mix.
The company has yet to enter the major Atlanta market, Payne said, but it has found franchisees for stores in other regional markets such as Savannah, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile. Columbus, with the right franchise partner, is a natural for the company’s expansion, he said.
“We are incredibly well known and well stored in the western markets, and in certain markets in the East we are growing rather rapidly,” he said. “So we see Columbus as sort of the next wave, if you well.”
Payne said the best areas of a city for Papa Murphy’s to succeed in would be those featuring a good mix of residential dwellings near a high-traffic area. The stores are designed to go into shopping centers with a good anchor. It doesn’t offer drive-thru windows.
“We’re targeting more of the moms and families who are trying to solve a dinnertime dilemma, which is: How do I put something tasty and high quality on the table when I want to without making a whole dinner? That’s sort of the appeal we have,” he said. “So it’s a little bit different than the competition out there ... We’re excited to get in there. and we hope to get it done soon.”