Fresh Made. Fresh Baked. Fresh Pizza.
~By Cheryl Long
Chuck van der Lee knows the exact number of pepperoni slices on a Papa Murphyâs large pepperoni pizza. â60,â he says proudly. âAnd on our family size we have 80 pieces of pepperoni, and there isnât one speck of the top that isnât covered in pepperoni!â
Thatâs the sort of intimate knowledge and passion that fuels the latest trend in one of North Americaâs â if not the worldâs â favourite foods. While there is no shortage of pizza chains throughout Canada, Papa Murphyâs Take ânâ Bake Pizza is bringing a new concept to the table with its freshly-made pizza thatâs baked in your own home. âPersonally Iâm very excited about growing it across Canada. Iâm very proud of the brand and equally proud of our franchisees and store managers and the role theyâre playing in helping us grow this,â van der Lee said.
Papa Murphyâs was first introduced into the U.S. market in 1981 in Portland, Oregon as the result of a merger between Papa Aldoâs Pizza based in Portland and Murphyâs Pizza out of Petaluma, California. The aim was to create a product that exceeded pizzeria quality but could be baked in the customerâs home, avoiding that lukewarm âout of a cardboard boxâ experience associated with traditional pick-up or delivery chains.
The franchise made its move into Western Canada in 2006 with the opening of its corporate location in Surrey, B.C. At the same time, van der Lee was nearing the end of a 20-year career with Rogers Communications. As chief executive officer of Rogers Retail, van der Lee was spending great amounts of time travelling between his home in Vancouver and Toronto until 2009 when a company reorganization became the impetus to leave Rogers and look for other opportunities in British Columbia.
Expanding from 20 to 50 stores across Canada
Van der Lee was already familiar with Papa Murphyâs when he began researching new ventures. In fact, at one time there had been talk about putting the pizza concept into some of the Rogers stores. Already acquainted with the company operations and head office executives, he took the plunge by purchasing the companyâs four Canadian corporate locations and several new stores being opened in Alberta. It was, he explained, the genesis of the company. Today, van der Lee is owner and president of Papa M Pizza Canada Inc. and has plans to continue expansion across the country. In five years, he hopes to see the number of Papa Murphy locations grow from 20 to 50 as the chain spreads east.
âWe donât plan to open any more company stores, all the emphasis will be growing through a franchise network,â he said. âWeâve recently signed an area developer for the province of Saskatchewan and heâs committed to opening up seven new stores.â He also has at least two strong prospects interested in Ontario franchises, van der Lee said, and has also received inquiries from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
So how exactly does Papa Murphyâs differ from the multitude of pizza chains stretched across Canada? Freshness is what makes the product truly unique, van der Lee explained.
âThe dough is made fresh every day â itâs not frozen, and all the ingredients are made fresh every day or prepared fresh every day. The cheese is grated fresh in store, the vegetables are diced and sliced, the fresh pepperoni and all the proteins âŠ and I think that is the biggest difference.â
Fresh, custom pizza in 15 minutes
Rather than dropping a cardboard box on to the dinner table and hoping for something palatable, Papa Murphy customers slide their freshly-made pizza into a 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes and then serve a high-quality, custom pizza. Thereâs also the option of cooking the pizza on a stone and grilling it on the barbecue. Either way, Papa Murphyâs is proving to be a simple recipe thatâs poised for success.
âOnce we have people try it a couple times, they become converts and some of them become stellar advocates because, once again, the product is so good and itâs affordable (and) the valueâs there,â van der Lee explained. âWhether itâs mom or dad buying the product, they feel comfortable that theyâre buying something thatâs fresh. We think itâs healthy, the ingredients are top-notch âŠ it speaks for itself.â
The product is priced competitively, somewhere between the grocery store and a sit-down restaurant, van der Lee explained, adding that a family of four could easily dine for about $20. Thatâs after choosing from an extensive menu that includes four types of crust (gluten-free is available), a multitude of fresh toppings and for those who just canât decide, a number of tried-and-true signature combinations like Canadian, Hawaiian and Murphyâs Combo. Thereâs even a Mini Murph kit that lets children make their own pizza at home. A selection of sides rounds out the menu, including nachos, dessert pizzas, ready-to-bake chocolate chip cookie dough, bread and salads.
The nachos were actually a Canadian invention, van der Lee said, and theyâre particularly popular for special events. Theyâre being tested in some of the U.S. locations and in return, custom pasta thatâs being marketed in the States should be available in Canadian stores this fall.
Franchise offers owner-friendly benefits
As a franchise opportunity, Papa Murphyâs is more âowner-friendlyâ than some concepts. They offer operational simplicity, which means no ovens, dining rooms, delivery service, drive-thrus and, perhaps the most appealing feature, no late hours. The morning is typically spent prepping the dayâs ingredients in advance of the 3-7 p.m. rush. A typical store has 12 to 14 people on payroll, van der Lee said, and four to five operating the âmake lineâ each day. The goal of moving customers in and out of the store in three to four minutes makes for a quick pace, and keeps hungry customers happy.
What also makes Papa Murphyâs unique is the companyâs commitment to community involvement and their pride in going a step beyond the norm.
Â Behind the scenes, staying on top of technology and finding new ways to be innovative is another key to the companyâs success. They implemented a new point of sale system unique to the pizza industry that increases operating efficiencies by tracking inventory and labour. They set up an online ordering option, which now represents about six per cent of weekly revenues, and will be launching a text messaging program that will send special offers to customers âwithout bombarding themâ, van der Lee said.
âBeyond that, weâre extremely nimble,â he explained. âSo the fact that weâre a small team and weâre working seven days a week, we make decisions quickly. We can move on new programs and make things happen without a lot of delay. Thereâs no bureaucracy here.â
Pizza served 43 times a year in most households
The typical North American household dines on pizza an average of 43 times per year, van der Lee said. Itâs a popular choice for those who are too busy to cook or need easy fare for a large gathering. By adding in the freshness component, Papa Murphyâs is turning a popular convenience food into a product that meets a much healthier standard.
Few can resist a truly good pizza, and van der Lee has his own favourite combination: a delite crust with pepperoni, bacon and jalapeno peppers. âOf course, I can really get into just a solid pepperoni pizza too!â
For more information about Papa Murphyâs, along with a multitude of tempting pizza flavours, visit www.papamurphys.ca.