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Eating and innovating with her eyes

Patty Scheibmeir

Patty Scheibmeir brings new culinary trends to market as VP of research & development and product innovation at Rave Restaurant Group.

Patty Scheibmeir
Rave Restaurant Group

By Beth Ewen

Whenever Patty Scheibmeir goes to a new restaurant, which is “a lot,” she’ll order the whole menu and then spend her time observing as much as eating.

“I’m watching the people around me interact with their food. How are they eating it? Are they using their fingers? Are they using their forks? I love to watch people eat. I know it’s weird but I learn a lot.”

Scheibmeir plows everything she learns into her job as vice president of research & development and product innovation at Dallas-based Rave Restaurant Group, parent company of Pizza Inn and Pie Five, two completely different concepts but both revolving around pizza. “I think I have pizza sauce running through my veins,” she said.

Pizza Inn dates to 1958, known for its made-from-scratch original thin crust pie with traditional tangy signature sauces and a famous all-day buffet.

She knows to leave those signature products alone, but then works to “bring some new, unique limited-time products to their all-day buffet to keep it fresh and keep customers coming back to see what’s new.”

A recent hit is a Philly cheesesteak pizza. “Steak and cheese, you put them together on a pizza. That’s going to go over very well.”

Pie Five is a different animal, just eight years old. “It’s a fun, hip, really revolutionary brand,” she said. “We get to try to look at the new trends,” like a cauliflower pizza crust that she dreamed up and brought to the market ahead of others, she said.

Pie Five's Athenian pizza

Pie Five’s Athenian pizza. It’s a “revolutionary brand,” says culinary pro Patty Scheibmeir.

A home economics major in college with a master’s degree in business, Scheibmeir developed her product innovation chops at Pizza Hut, where a large and well-oiled machine rolled out new things only after a rigorous process.

She was just 23 years old when she had her biggest hit, she said: the creation of Stuffed Crust Pizza, one of the most successful products in franchise history, and one that Tom Ryan, the current CEO of Smashburger, routinely takes credit for.

“That was my baby,” she said. “He loved to take credit for it, he was my boss. It was a two-and-a-half year project, from my ideation … to launch on March 25, 1995,” she said. “He did a lot of battling for it, but I invented it.” (Ryan didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

She got the idea while listening to a focus group with colleagues. “One of the gentlemen was talking about pizza bones,” she recalls. The group sent a question to the moderator: What did he mean by pizza bones? “You know, the crust ends,” the man replied. “I call those the pizza bones and I throw them to the dogs.”

She thought: What could she do “to make people not throw the crust away,” she said. “I got string cheese and I wrapped it. I used one of our hand-tossed crusts and people started falling in love with it.” Many iterations and focus groups later and the Stuffed Crust Pizza became legend.

Today at Rave she takes the discipline learned at Pizza Hut, as well as from her consulting clients at Papa Murphy’s, Applebee’s and KFC, and applies it to a much smaller shop with a three-phase approach.

First, “it’s about the food,” she said, striving to “get great-tasting pizza that also looks great, because customers first and foremost eat things with their eyes and taste things with their eyes.”

Second, “I try to find clean, fresh ingredients that are easy to source. Sourcing is super important because we’re kind of everywhere.”

Third, “I want to make my pizzas as ops-simple and margin-friendly” as possible, she said, referring to operations and profit. “If it’s really complex to make, then the operators aren’t going to want to put it out in a buffet.”

At Pizza Hut, there was “full analysis, full testing,” she said of every idea. “They were very good at implementation, there were very few failures.”

Today, using her own eyes and taste buds, she can get a product ready to launch in a couple of months. “It’s wonderful to be that agile,” she said.

Patty Scheibmeir

Culinary Q&A with Patty Scheibmeir

What’s your first food memory?

Homemade ice cream on Memorial Day weekend. Dad and Mom used to make it. And watermelon. Being able to eat it with my hands. I might have even had a diaper on and having it all over me.

What was the last thing you cooked at home?

Last night I cooked Bierocks. We take care of my parents, my husband and me. It’s like a German meat pie: beef and cabbage and onions cooked together inside of a homemade bread.

What’s your guilty pleasure food?

Lasagna. I love making it and I love eating it. Carbs and cheese and meat, that’s me.

If you could only eat or drink three things for the rest of your life, what would they be?

A really good blue cheese. A really good red wine. And you know I’m going to have pizza.

What’s your favorite foodie city?

Dallas. We have everything from fabulous sushi, wonderful Thai food, fabulous Indian cuisine, fabulous Tex-Mex on every single corner, and everything in between.

Heidi Gibson - The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen  •  Sheldon Simeon - Pokéworks 
•  Patty Scheibmeir - Rave Restaurant Group  •  Diego Comparin - Paciugo Gelato & Café 
•  Anthony Russo - Russo’s New York Pizzeria

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