Is the race to become San Antonio’s “Chipotle of Pizza” entering its last lap? In the first part of the decade, assembly line pizza franchises were the hottest new sector of the fast casual restaurant business, with chains sprouting up from big names like Buffalo Wild Wings and, of course, Chipotle.
But the nation's hunger for the concept seems to have chilled in 2017 with Texas-based chain Pie Five reporting a decrease in business in November and young franchises like PizzaRev closing shops.
Like in other Texas cities, the market in San Antonio is getting crowded. Texas-based Urban Bricks Pizza has three locations operating in the city, with three more in the works. Seattle’s MOD Pizza has three locations, too. Pie Five and Pieology both have Alamo City shops on the horizon, while locally owned Quicky Wood Fired Pizza is serving the northwest side of town.
Now comes news that another chain is rolling into market. On January 30, Dayton franchise Rapid Fired Pizza announced they are opening a location at 121 Pat Booker Rd. in Universal City by the end of summer 2018. The website for the company lists another San Antonio location at 12042 Blanco Rd. as coming soon, although no further information is available.
Like its contemporaries, Rapid Fired offers build-your-own pies with a choice of crust (thin, pan, Udi’s gluten-free, or “No Doh” which is a low carb foundation of spinach or grated Parmesan), sauces (everything from traditional red to taco), toppings, spices, and dipping sauces like garlic butter, chipotle ranch, Gutsy Garlic Habanero, and the curiously named Boom Boom. Pepperoni sticks, salads, and desserts like cherry pie and fruit pizzas are also on the menu.
The hooks are a three minute cooking time, a large selection of craft (and not-so-craft) beer, and something called a Pepsi Spire — a digital soda fountain that’s a more efficient way to continue the elementary school habit of mixing all the flavors together.
It’s easy to see why such franchises have been attractive with restaurateurs. The relatively low operational cost, clockwork approach to sourcing, and cheap cost of labor can all add up to huge profits. But that assumes a dining public increasingly driven by novelty will work made-to-order pizzas into their everyday routines.
Chipotle itself provides a lesson here. A health scare or simply a shift in public perception can denigrate a company’s profile quicker than the time it takes to flash fire a pizza. And there is an increasing interest in local artisan joints like Sulla Strada Pizza and Dough Pizzeria Napoletana that focus on the good over the fast. There will always be a market for quality pizza in San Antonio, fast casual or not, but the next big trend in the market may be to hurry up and wait.