An exclusive interview with fast-casual pizza operator Persona Pizzeria
Pizza consumption is up, and the recent rise in fast-casual pizza—with custom pies done and ready to eat a bare few minutes after ordering—is likely a big part of that trend.
Fast-casual pizza started to make waves across the restaurant industry a few years ago. And while many of the specialized, chef-driven pizza concepts suggested on menus build appeal and make selection a snap, pizza beauty is in the pie of the beholder. As many successful fast-casual chain concepts have shown, the ability to customize your own pizza using a sufficiently wide range of culinary-forward sauces, toppings and even multiple crust options fits squarely within current limited-service restaurant (LSR) trends.
Persona Pizzeria, which uses wood-fired ovens, is one such rising star in fast-casual pizza—and one that doesn’t stop the innovation when it comes time for dessert.
In order to learn more about Persona Pizza, we reached out to Glenn Cybulski, founder and CEO of the company, who is also a certified Italian pizzaiolo and a former World Pizza Champion.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: What led to the creation of Persona Pizzeria?
Glenn Cybulski: I met founding partner Joseph Baumel at the international pizza expo when he was seeking a pizzaiolo to start Persona and jump into the QSR create-your-own pizza segment.
DJP: How long, on average, does it take to fulfill orders at the restaurant?
GC: Our throughput on average is 4.5 minutes. This includes the 90-second bake time of the pizza.
DJP: Fast-casual pizza is one of the rising stars in restaurant today. What is the appeal of this approach to pizza?
GC: There are several appealing aspects to this concept. Guests get to choose their toppings from fresh ingredients, the price point is very low in comparison to “normal” pizzerias and the quality of Persona pizza is extremely high. People just cannot believe that it only takes 90 seconds to bake the pizza!
DJP: Why did you decide to use Marra Forni ovens?
GC: Simply put the Marra brothers make the best wood/gas fired ovens in the business. They are hand-built by artisan brick masters, and all the materials are imported from Italy. After working with other ovens, I began cooking on Marra ovens about 15 years ago in Italy.
DJP: How would you describe the style of pizza crust at Persona Pizzeria?
GC: True Neapolitan! Made form the best ingredients, 00 flour from Molino Caputo, yeast, pure water and sea salt, our curst is thin on the bottom with a defined sponge and gum line to a slightly charred bottom. The outer crust is crisp yet chewy and has small charring bubbles to evoke the flavor of Italy.
DJP: What led you to source your flour from Molino Caputo?
GC: I have been cooking with Caputo flour for decades, as well as working with the Caputo family.
It is simply the best flour we can source to deliver a perfect Neapolitan pizza.
DJP: What went into developing the gluten-free pizza crust that you offer?
GC: Our gluten-free flour is also a Caputo product, and we get rave reviews form our guests that order it.
DJP: Describe the wood-fired desserts that Persona Pizzeria offers. What makes them unique?
GC: We have several dessert pizzas that start with our Neapolitan dough fired in our oven. Our S’mores Pizza is made with a layer of graham cracker crust, chocolate mascarpone cheese, chocolate and finished with miniature marshmallows that are slightly charred in the oven. We also have a Red White and Blueberry Pizza with honey mascarpone, strawberries, blueberries and fresh whipped cream. We bake chocolate chip cookies in our oven, as wells brownies and rice krispy treats for the kids! We also have a selection of gluten-free desserts, as well.
DJP: Where will the next Persona Pizzeria locations open?
GC: We just opened in Chicago, Humble, TX (a Houston suburb) and will open the next three locations this year in Dallas, Los Angeles and downtown Houston. (Editor’s note: Other existing locations include two in California, in Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa, and Columbia, SC.)
DJP: Are you actively franchising the Persona Pizzeria concept? How many locations are actively in development?
GC: Persona is expanding nationwide. We have 20 stores in active development, and have projected 250 additional stores in the next 5 years.