SANTA BARBARA, California – The pizza industry, once dominated by delivery and take out concepts, is now in the midst of reinventing itself to fit into the fast casual mold. And while there are a number of pizzerias jumping on the fast casual trend, none is more innovative than Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria, a create-your-own, hand crafted authentic Neapolitan pizzeria and only concept of its kind in the country with an Italian trained pizzaiolo. Having opened its first location in Santa Barbara, California in February 2013, Persona has since become the #1 pizzeria in the region and recently announced plans to expand its national footprint with a one-of-a-kind franchise opportunity. Company plans call for adding 10 new restaurants in 2014 and having as many as 250 locations nationwide in the next five years. “If there is any doubt that the pizza segment is worth studying, consider that nearly 70,000 pizza restaurants sell about $40 billion worth of pizza each year in the United States. That’s a lot of dough any way you look at it,” said Persona co-founder Joseph Baumel. “What sets us apart from other concepts is our commitment to high quality standards of true Neapolitan pizza. The success of other fast casual pizzerias can be attributed to the newsness of the concept. Once that fades, however, they will just be another mediocre pizzeria.” A former real estate professional in South Florida, Baumel moved to Los Angeles following the great real estate bust of 2008 to pursue his lifelong dream of working in the restaurant business. Upon graduating from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa, California, he returned to Los Angeles to build his own restaurant concept. A chance encounter at the 2012 Pizza Expo led him to Glenn Cybulski, World Pizza Champion and Pizzaiolo. Shortly after meeting, the two worked tirelessly to launch their vision and Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria opened its doors for business in Santa Barbara on February 16, 2013. Persona’s Neapolitan-style (thin crust) pizza is modeled after the legendary pizzerias in Naples, where each pizza is truly hand crafted and made-to-order. Similar to restaurants like Chipotle and SUBWAY, customers can pick and choose from over 30 toppings and watch their customized pies be assembled. There are also fixed-price specialty pizzas to choose from, based on Cybulski’s award-winning recipes. Each pizza takes about 90 seconds to bake using imported Marra Forni ovens that are 300 degrees hotter than most eateries. The pizzas are 12 inches in diameter and start as low as $6.95. “While nothing can replace a culinary pilgrimage to Italy, we’re determined to create a far more affordable alternative right here in the United States,” Baumel added. “With the quality of our pizza, we’re saving you a trip to Naples and about $6,000.” While convenience and price are important selling points, the priority for Cybulski is phenomenal pizza. “We craft an authentic Neapolitan pizza from 00 flour and tomatoes imported from Naples, combined with locally sourced fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses. Our meatballs, sausage and sauces, all made on-site, have won gold medal acclaim nationally and internationally, and we think our customers’ taste buds will agree,” Cybulski said. Persona also offers gelato made by a Milano-trained gelato chef in Los Angeles, as well as a fresh salad station where all the dressings are made from scratch. To augment the company’s growth, Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria is seeking franchise partners who recognize the tremendous potential in the fast casual segment of the pizza industry. The total investment to own a Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria is approximately $275,000-$450,000. “There isn’t a franchise opportunity quite like this in the United States,” Cybulski added. “The prospect of quick, convenient and artisan custom-made pizza has great potential.” About Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria Founded in 2013, Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria is the only pizzeria of its kind in the country with an Italian trained Pizzaiolo. The concept is authentic Neapolitan (thin crust) pizza – using the finest imported ingredients possible, along with the freshest produce available – that is affordably priced and baked in 90 seconds. With one location currently open and operating in Santa Barbara, California, Persona recently launched a franchise opportunity and intends to have as many as 250 locations nationwide in the next five years. For more information, please visit http://www.personapizzeria.com.