For more than a decade, I worked day and night on making Fuel Pizza & Wings a success. However, the ambition of my partners, Jeremy and Lincoln, and I has not yet been met. Our original concept has been wonderful — climbing into the low 20’s on the Hot 100 list before graduating with the opening of our 10th location. 15 years of success is hard to turn your back on, but it was time to evolve. America has changed and is looking for healthier options – food with a purpose. Gluten-free, multi-grain and unbromated weren’t even in the pizza vocabulary a decade ago.
Fast-casual concepts like Chipotle and Pot Belly have forever changed America’s restaurant landscape. Americans now expect high-quality and great flavor at a reasonable price. Fuel was forced to take a step back and reevaluate if we were meeting that demand.
With this change in the market we were inspired to create an entirely new model with the opening of Custom Fuel Pizza and Salads in Washington, D.C. this past August. Although we have considered ourselves a quick casual pizzeria since inception, serving slices, whole pies and wings as a counter service model, it can be difficult to monitor quantity and quality of pizzas on display. There was always too much, not enough, too old … no magic formula. Custom Fuel Pizza solved the problem. At Custom, we assemble fast-fired, artisinal individual pizzas directly in-front of the customer.
At Fuel, whenever we make a decision, our first criteria is quality – does this decision make our product, environment or team better? If the answer is no, then we move no further. With the development of the Fast Bake technology, quality customizable, quick casual pizza has become a reality. With our experience to lean on and pizza gurus on speed dial, we set out to create the best fast casual pizzeria on the planet.
We choose Pennsylvania Ave. in D.C. as our first location because we had a strong operational footprint in the District and we knew we would receive world-wide visibility. In a 35 seat café, we are baking more than 150 individual, custom pizzas an hour. We have been able to take so many variables out of play. When our customers watch their pizza being built, baked, cut and served, we know if there is a mistake right away. Pizza isn’t just for dinner anymore. Monday through Friday lunches are the top 5 meal periods. If you’d have told me that was going to happen a few months ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Custom Fuel Pizza & Salads is an evolution that is positioned to grow. Just a month after our first location opened, we are beginning construction on two other locations – one in Manhattan and another in D.C. The model is so clean and efficient, real estate owners, brokers and developers are now calling us with “A” locations. As baking technology continues to improve and the demands of the consumer change, the time for fastcasual pizza is now.