October 1, 2014 |

Pizza Studio selects former Panera Bread chief franchise officer Hank Simpson as its new COO

By Pizza Today


PizzaStudio logo

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 1, 2014) – Pizza Studio (www.PizzaStudio.com), the nation’s fastest-growing quick-casual pizza-restaurant brand, announced that William “Hank” Simpson, the former senior vice president and chief franchise officer of Panera Bread, has joined the rapidly expanding pizza chain as its new COO.

Before becoming chief franchise officer, Simpson held a number of important roles at Panera after arriving there in 2002, including director of retail operations and joint ventures; vice president of retail operations; SVP/ COO of company and joint ventures; and SVP/chief development officer.

Prior to Panera, Simpson was the vice president of franchise operations and the regional vice president of company operations for Bennigan’s Restaurants, a chain restaurant operator. He also served as director of human resources at On the Border restaurants. As Pizza Studio’s new COO, Simpson will direct the continued expansion of the chain’s national brand. He will ensure Pizza Studio’s continued operational excellence by maintaining its high-quality food and service.

“Hank has tremendous experience in developing and building emerging, fast-casual dining brands—which is why we’re so fortunate to have him join us,” said Pizza Studio founder and CEO Samit Varma. “His knowledge of corporate and franchise growth is invaluable. He’s going to prove a decisive factor in accelerating our expansion across the country.”

            “Pizza Studio is a great concept with strong, experienced leadership that’s already proven—in a very short period of time—its significant potential for growth,” Simpson said. “An opportunity like this comes along very rarely, and I’m excited to be a part of this team.”

            Pizza Studio offers guests the opportunity to create their own gourmet, artisanal pizza, with fresh ingredients that are sourced locally where possible for each store. Their chef-crafted “masterpieces” are cooked in just two minutes—faster than the time it takes to pay, fill up a soda and sit down at a table.

In addition to being the nation’s fastest-growing brand in this category, Pizza Studio is also the highest rated by customers on the popular review site Yelp!, for fast-casual pizza brands with more than 500 reviews.

With 15 units across the country already—from Northern and Southern California to Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota and New York City—Pizza Studio expects to double its growth by the end of 2014, and to have 100 locations nationwide by the end of 2015. It has signed development agreements with several experienced, multi-unit restaurant operators to open more than 200 stores nationwide.

The company’s second Bay Area franchise location, in Palo Alto, will open in late October, and others in the area will open soon in San Bruno and Los Gatos. Additional announced stores are set to open in Idaho; Utah (four locations); Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

Pizza Studio offers a choice of five artisanal crusts (including Traditional, Rosemary Herb, Whole Grain & Flax Seed, hot Firecracker, and gluten-free); four specialty sauces; four freshly grated, crumbled or shaved cheeses (including feta and goat); and five seasonings (including Truffle salt and Jamaican jerk spice).

Pizza Studio’s light and crispy, 11-inch pizzas can be topped from an assortment of over 30 ingredients, ranging from premium meats such as nitrate-free pepperoni, Genoa salami, crispy bacon and sweet chicken sausage to fresh, roasted vegetables such as banana peppers, arugula and caramelized onions.

Once the trained “Pizza Artist” has finished crafting a “Masterpiece” pie to the guest’s specifications, it’s whisked through the oven on a conveyor belt, ensuring consistently perfect cooking.

Pizza Studio’s “Create Your Masterpiece™” pizza enables guests to select an unlimited number of toppings and combinations for only $7.99. The restaurant’s signature “Starving Artist” (non-customized) pizzas are only $5.99. Studio loyalty-program members are awarded 1 point for every $1 they spend; 100 points can be redeemed for a free “Masterpiece” pizza. Chopped salads, fresh oven-baked cookies and an assortment of beverages round out the menu options.

Customers can order pizzas for take-out through the company’s Web site. The full menu is visible at http://www.pizzastudio.com/menu.

Pizza Studio plays an active role in fighting hunger by donating, through Feeding America (http://www.feedingamerica.org/), a free meal to local food charities whenever a guest has spent $20 using the store’s loyalty card.

Each Pizza Studio location features a large “Starving Artists’ Wall” where local artists can exhibit and sell their work. Pizza Studio never charges any commission for providing the display space to the artists they sponsor. A slideshow of Starving Artists Walls, as well as a link to a video featuring some of the artists who have sold their works through Pizza Studio, can be found at http://www.pizzastudio.com/art.

Pizza Studio was founded in 2012 by co-CEOs Ron Biskin and Samit Varma. Biskin is the former president and COO of Native Foods and was president of Wolfgang Puck Express. He also held management positions with Burger King, Wendy’s, T.G.I. Friday’s and Baja Fresh Mexican Grill. Varma, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served as an officer on a nuclear submarine, is a former general partner of Anthem Venture Partners and was the COO of Audyssey Labs.

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