Michigan-based PizzaWala’s uses family recipes steeped in Indian tradition. With the pandemic halting growth efforts, the concept is ready for the franchise.
Family recipes are often the beginning of a beautiful cause. Passed down from generation to generation, they can define a family and encourage younger generations to get involved in everything from cooking to menu development. But for a family from Canton, Michigan, these recipes were the start of a multi-generational, thriving pizza business.
|Darshan Patel, Vice President of Development at PizzaWala’s|
PizzaWala’s was launched in February 2012 and was then known as Curry on Crust.
“Starting in 2018, we said we’re going to take that concept and turn it into a brand. Really, we want to take it to the next level,” Darshan Patel, vice president of development, said in a phone interview.
In 2019 the restaurant was renamed. In India, a “wala” is a vendor, and “because we’re experts in pizza, we’re pizza walas,” Patel said.
The brand prepared for the franchise, but then the pandemic struck, ushering in an era of uncertainty for would-be franchisees.
Now that consumers are gaining confidence in the economy, “we’re back at it and really pushing to grow the brand,” Patel said.
Ready for growth
Today, the single-unit pizzeria still uses the recipes based on the Indian food the Patels are known for.
While many pizzerias choose to open a few corporate stores before making the move to franchise, PizzaWala’s management team knows they are ready. In fact, they have a sister shop to PizzaWala called Neehee’s that sells Indian vegetarian street food and has been in business for 16 years.
Neehee’s has multiple franchise locations, and “we took all of our experience from that and applied it to what we do in the pizza business,” Patel said. “Franchising is a whole different ballgame, so we really relied on our experience here.”
Having weathered the growing pains with Neehee’s, PizzaWala executives are confident they are ready for the next level. A franchise agreement has been signed for a location in New Jersey, which the management intends to open this year. The brand is also focused on growth in the Midwest and further up the East Coast.
To prepare for franchising, PizzaWala’s has established its own supply chain and established good relationships with its suppliers.
“We really put all the infrastructure together,” Patel said. “Now it’s just a question, can we take what we did at that location and replicate the whole concept?”
The answer, based on Neehee’s franchise efforts, is yes, Patel said. All recipes have been standardized and the brand supplies their own seasoning packs to ensure all sauces and marinades are consistent. Patel said the brand’s consistency sets it apart from the competition.
On the menu
PizzaWala’s motto is “Done differently” and the menu is steeped in Indian tradition. “Offering something that can’t be found anywhere is absolutely a bonus” to attract customers,” Patel said.
Patel said his family has been making pizza at home since he was a child. These Indian fusion recipes translate well to PizzaWala’s, where customers enjoy flavors like tiki masala and tandoori.
At one point, a family member recommended making a pizza with paneer, a hard cheese that doesn’t melt but makes a good meat substitute. Homemade pizza nights went from one night every few weeks to multiple nights, and the family figured they could open a pizzeria using the family recipes. There was a vacancy next to Neehee’s and PizzaWala’s was a good fit next door.
The menu features mostly pizza and wings. Homemade as much as possible, including batter and sauces. Vegetables are freshly cut. Having a dedicated supply chain for both brands, including several different Neehee’s locations, helps keep grocery costs low.
The company recently added pepperoni to its menu, having primarily used chicken and a vegetarian base.
The brand uses a conveyor oven for consistency and simplicity. It doesn’t require expertise to handle, Patel said. The brand is a carryout concept and uses third-party drivers for delivery.
Like most restaurants, PizzaWala’s has struggled with hiring during the pandemic and Patel said: “You have to put your mindset in the shoes of the typical employee who wants to make money and get paid, but at the same time want to put in the minimum effort. “
PizzaWala’s has investigated how processes can be made more efficient and faster, such as B. Rearranging the production line to reduce the number of steps required to make a pizza. Patel said that on a busy Friday or Saturday night, an employee can walk 10,000 to 12,000 steps just to bake pizza. Reducing these steps and helping employees save energy became critical, as did recruiting and retaining employees.
“The pizza business is a very rewarding business,” Patel said. “You learn something about yourself. I think every restaurant business tests your patience and takes a toll on you mentally at times, but when you’re able to step back and breathe and then approach your obstacles, it makes you from big difference. And when you see that, you learn, ‘Hey, there’s a better way to do this.’”