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McClatchy-Tribune  08/24/2014 10:47 AM ET
Rise Pies wants to take Valley pizza national [Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio :: ]

Aug. 24--BOARDMAN -- Rise Pies is attempting to get a slice of the growing fast-casual dining market.

The goal in the fast-casual industry is to have a focus on one product, and for Rise Pies, that will be pizza, said Eddie Muransky, Rise Pies president.

Rise Pies isn't the first company to try to make pizza in a fast-casual environment. The location in Boardman is scheduled to open Sept. 2, taking the place of the former Peets Coffee and Tea and Coldstone Creamery. The store will seat around 50 inside and 30 outside.

"We looked at several other pizza concepts and decided that we could do something better," he said. "Every area of the country has something that they do really well and I just think for the [Mahoning] Valley, that's pizza."

The key with fast-casual restaurants is to do one thing, do it really well and give people lots of options about how to personalize that product, Muransky said. Therefore, Rise Pies will offer three kinds of crust; regular, wheat and gluten-free; eight sauces; and lots of toppings including a number of cheeses.

The oven will cook at 800 degrees, cooking the 10-inch pizzas in less than three minutes, he said.

Vernon Cesta, owner of V2 and Vernon's Cafe, said he was approached about the project.

"They didn't want to buy another chain, and they were familiar with the quality of the product at V2 and Vernon's," Cesta said.

Muransky understood that there was great pizza in the Valley, Cesta said.

The initial plan for Rise Pies was to open the first store in a mall that is nearing completion in Sarasota, Fla., but then the opportunity came up to start the company in the Valley, Muransky said. It seemed appropriate since the concept was based on Valley pizza.

The goal is to ensure equal quality at all restaurants. Muransky said that to accomplish this, the company is actually prepared to ship water from the Valley down to Florida to make sure the crust tastes right.

"There have been people down there who tell me the water there just doesn't taste right," he said. "There are a number of New York-style pizza places in the area that do the same thing."

Rise Pies, however, also has the goal of using locally sourced ingredients at every location, much like Chipotle Mexican Grille, one of the top companies in the fast-casual segment, Muransky said.

For Muransky, Rise Pies is a chance for him to make his own mark at The Muransky Companies, which was started by his father, Edward, and is the largest franchisee of Auntie Anne's Pretzels, is the majority owner of Surgical Hospital at Southwoods and includes the Chestnut Land Co.

"When I first got to the company, I was just trying to learn," Eddie Muransky said.

He stated he looked into things the company was already doing to see if there was somewhere he could make a difference, but couldn't find the right opportunity, so he decided to look for something new.

Muransky said he already is looking for more potential locations for more Rise Pies.

He expects the company's bases will be in states such as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Florida, where Muransky Companies already owns Auntie Anne's locations, but is open to anywhere the concept has a chance to be successful.

"I think malls will be a big part of our plans because of our connections through Auntie Anne's," he said.

The goal is for the company to gain a portion of the fast-casual restaurant business, a growing segment of the restaurant industry.

The segment makes up 27.25 percent of food service sales, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In this genre, Rise Pies will compete against companies such as Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grille, Five Guys Burger and Fries, Qdoba Mexican Grill, and Einstein Bros. Bagels, which are the top five restaurants in terms of sales in the genre, according to the restaurant association.

In fact, the genre is growing even as other portions of the restaurant industry struggle.

A study by the NPD Group, which conducts consumer research, showed that business is increasing at fast-casual restaurants while fast-food and full-service restaurants are experiencing reduced sales.

The fast-casual segment also led in terms of restaurant growth in 2013 with 8 percent to 12 percent more customers frequenting these kinds of restaurants, according to the NPD group.

This is a segment that people want, they want higher-quality food, but don't want to have to pay a tip or have a waitress, Muransky said.

 

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