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Pie Five operator sets brisk development pace

Dave Goebel, l to r, operates Pie Fives with sons Kerry and Kevin.

Check out this development pace, which Dave Goebel, former CEO of Applebee’s, is executing as a Pie Five franchisee.

“Our first restaurant opened August 12 of 2013. We currently have four operating restaurants. We’re scheduled to open No. 5 on July 31, No. 6 on August 21, No. 7 on September 11 or 17, and No. 8 around Thanksgiving,” he said when reached in July.

It’s the kind of execution franchisors dream about when they sign multi-unit operators, and Goebel is one of a rare breed who can actually pull off those 10 packs. “It’s going to be a wild summer and fall,” Goebel says.

Goebel had an initial 10-store development agreement that needs to be complete by late 2016. “We’ll be well ahead of that schedule,” he says, and then he plans to go back to the franchisor, Rave Restaurant Group, to sign up for 8 to 10 more.

So how is he doing it, and what can other operators take from his playbook? First, “the familiarity with the Kansas City and surrounding market is fairly important,” Goebel says, where his family moved in 1993 when they were aggressively building Boston Markets. His stint with Applebee’s was in the city, too. “I really know our market extremely well,” and has relationships with developers and brokers. “It helps you zero in on locations quickly.”

Second, he notes aggressive development agreements require significant capital. “You reach an inflection point where the operating capital takes care of itself, but sometimes it’s a tough road to get there,” he says. Goebel’s approach is to consider his lenders as “serious partners,” with whom he shares full disclosure in regular meetings.

And third, “I refuse to let us get behind on the people equation. We will keep the gun very loaded with qualified, trained people,” he says. That means hiring and training assistant managers and general managers, even before they’re needed in a store. “The worst thing in the world that happens is we end up with a fully trained, qualified manager” who doesn’t yet have an assignment. They’ll add the person to an open restaurant to provide “additional topspin.” “I really don’t mind that,” Goebel says, “because the flip side of that is being caught short, and I’m not going to do that.”

A one-two punch

Goebel says he researched all the fast-casual pizza brands before choosing Pie Five, part of Rave Restaurant Group, based in The Colony, Texas, that also operates Pizza Inn.

“I loved the simplicity,” he says. “Pie Five’s approach was, we’re going to do one thing very, very well, which affords us the opportunity to do it very consistently, and it affords us the ability to get maximum throughput.”

Many fast-casual players stick to one thing and the model works very well. “There are others that have been lured to enhance the offering,” he says, citing his experience with Boston Market, which started as Boston Chicken and was “a beautiful model in terms of throughput and consistency. When that was altered to become Boston Market,” in 1995, “we added ham and turkey and meatloaf, and it changed the whole economic equation. It changed our ability to be 100 percent on with every guest.”

He also thinks “the world” of Rave CEO Randy Gier. “This sounds like blasphemy coming from an operator, but I love the fact that in a start-up like this he’s really all about consumer, all about R&D, all about food innovation, all about marketing”—in other words, all about everything other than operations.

Chris Smith, COO, also comes in for praise. “Smith is a disciplinarian about the system and processes, which I think is needed. It’s just a nice one-two punch.”