Michigan-based PizzaWala’s uses family recipes steeped in Indian tradition. After the pandemic halted efforts to grow, the concept is ready for franchise.
Family recipes are often the start of something beautiful. They are passed down from generation to generation, 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, those recipes were the start of a multi-generational pizza business.
|Darshan Patel, vice president of development for PizzaWala’s|
PizzaWala’s was launched in February 2012, then known as Curry on Crust.
“From 2018, we’ve said we’re going to turn this concept into a brand. Really, we want to take it to the next level,” Darshan Patel, vice president of development, said in a telephone interview.
In 2019 the restaurant was given a new name. In India, a “wala” is a seller, and “because we are experts in pizza, we are pizza walas,” Patel said.
The brand was preparing to franchise, but then the pandemic hit and ushered in an era of uncertainty for potential franchisees.
As consumers gain confidence in the economy, “we’re back on track and really pushing to grow out of the brand,” Patel said.
Ready for growth
Today, the one-unit pizza place still uses the recipes based on the Indian food that the Patels are known for.
While many pizzerias choose to open a few corporate stores before franchising, PizzaWala’s management team knows they’re ready. They even have a sister store to PizzaWala’s called Neehee’s which sells Indian vegetarian street food and has been around for 16 years.
Neehee’s has multiple franchise locations, and “we’ve taken all of that experience we’ve taken from there and applied it to what we were doing in the pizza business,” Patel said. “Franchising is a very different game, so we really relied on our experience there.”
After going through the growing pains with Neehee’s, PizzaWala’s leaders are confident it’s ready for the next level. A franchise agreement has been signed for a New Jersey location, which management hopes to open this year. The brand is also focused on growth in the Midwest and further up the East Coast.
To prepare itself for franchising, PizzaWala’s has set up its own supply chain and built good relationships with its suppliers.
“We’ve really brought all that infrastructure together,” Patel said. “Now it’s just a matter of can we take what we did in this location and replicate that whole concept?”
The answer, based on Neehee’s franchise efforts, is yes, Patel said. All recipes are standardized and the brand supplies its own seasoning packages so that all sauces and marinades are consistent. Patel said the consistency of the brand sets it apart from the competition.
On the menu
PizzaWala’s motto is “Made Differently” and the menu is steeped in Indian tradition. “Offering something that can’t be found everywhere is definitely a bonus” to getting customers,” Patel said.
Patel said his family has been making pizzas since childhood. Those Indian fusion recipes translated well to PizzaWala’s, where customers enjoy flavors like tiki masala and tandoori.
Somewhere down the line, a family member recommended making a pizza with paneer on it, a hard cheese that doesn’t melt but serves well as a meat substitute. The homemade pizza night went from one night every few weeks to several nights, and the family thought they could open a pizzeria with the family recipes. There was an open space next door to Neehee’s, and PizzaWala’s fit in nicely next door.
The menu is mainly pizza and wings. As much as possible is made in-house, including dough and sauces. Vegetables are freshly cut. Having our own supply chain for both brands, including several Neehee locations, helps keep food costs down.
The company recently introduced pepperoni to their menu, mainly using a chicken and vegetarian base.
The brand uses a conveyor oven for consistency and convenience. It doesn’t require expertise to handle, Patel said. The brand is a pick-up concept and uses external drivers for delivery.
Like most restaurants, PizzaWala’s has struggled with hiring during the pandemic, with Patel saying, “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 the minimum amount of money.” effort.”
PizzaWala’s has looked at ways to make operations more efficient and faster, such as rearranging the makeline to reduce the number of steps it takes to make a pizza. Patel said that on a busy Friday or Saturday night, an employee can take 10,000 to 12,000 steps just to make pizza. Reducing those steps and helping employees conserve energy became critical, as did finding and retaining employees.
“The pizza business is a very rewarding business,” Patel said. “You learn a little bit about yourself. I think any restaurant business will test your patience and strain you mentally at times, but if you can step back and breathe and then approach your obstacles, it makes a huge difference. And if you realizing that, you learn ‘hey. There’s a better way to do this.'”