by Michael Wolf
Darryl Dueltgen and Jason Udrija had a choice: Expand their successful New Jersey pizza restaurant brand called Pizza Love, or start a tech-powered pizza concept that could change the pizza industry.
They decided to start a revolution.
“We’ve put a lot of time into building a labor-reduced, tech-driven concept that we believe will revolutionize the pizza industry,” said Udrija, who cofounded PizzaHQ alongside partners Dueltgen and Matt Bassil.
According to Udrija, PizzaHQ will utilize robotics and other technology to create a more affordable pizza (“almost a 50% lower price point”) while using the same recipe and high-quality ingredients of the pies made at their dine-in restaurant.
“Our POS will directly inject the customer order into the Picnic system,” said Udrija. “The Picnic conveyer feeds straight into our ovens and then gets cut and boxed before pick up for delivery.”
Once the pizza is boxed, it’s loaded into delivery vans and distributed to heated pickup lockers around Totowa, New Jersey, a borough about thirty minutes north of Newark. Customers will be able to track their delivery and will scan a QR code to pick up the pizza waiting for them in a locker. Third party delivery partners like UberEats will also be able to pick up orders from the pickup lockers and deliver to customers.
To reach a wider swath of customers over time, Udrija and his cofounders plan to use a hub and spoke model that creates enough production volume to blanket a metro area with coverage for their pizza. Udrija says the company plans to surround the central production facility, or hub, with five fulfillment centers over the next five years. The raw ingredients for the pizzas will be prepared at the hub each day and delivered to the fulfillment centers. The plans is for the hub to grow up to four Picnic pizza robots and 50 employees, while each distribution center will have two Picnic pizza bots and about ten employees each.
Udrija says once they work out the kinks in their northern New Jersey system, they plan to replicate the model in other cities across the country. To fund their growth, the company has raised $1.3 million through private investors and a bank loan, and plan on closing out the first round of funding at $1.7 million in the next few months.
If PizzaHQ takes off, it would be a big win for Picnic. PizzaHQ’s entire system is built around Picnic pizza robots, so each city the company builds out at a similar scale to its northern New Jersey market would translate to more than a dozen Picnic pizza machines.
PizzaHQ’s rethink of the pizza restaurant is part of a broader trend in the restaurant industry to adapt to the rapid rise in digital ordering. In markets like China, hub and spoke production models optimized for delivery have grown rapidly in recent years. In the US, digital ordering and delivery have given rise to new operating models, including online-only restaurant concepts powered by ghost kitchens. With PizzaHQ, the company is combining the hub and spoke with the dark kitchen model along with a few extra toppings of automation and other technology on top.
It may be too soon to tell if PizzaHQ will revolutionize the industry, but the company has a few things working in its favor. For one, the pizza industry is massive and is already largely built around delivery. The founders also have experience building a pizza restaurant business, which gives them both an existing customer base to market into as well as a sense of legitimacy in an industry that is bloating up quickly with digital-only concepts.
For those who live in or around Totowa, New Jersey and want to try PizzaHQ out, the company expects to start service in the first quarter of 2022.