MOD Pizza is on track to open five UK stores this year and hit a total of 15 next year, MCA has learnt.
UK chief executive John Nelson said the brand was looking at a variety of different sites and markets to test the brand in the UK and inform its growth.
He also said MOD was opening in regional sites like Brighton, Leeds, Nottingham and Newcastle and not just London to avoid miscalculating the scalability of the businesses.
Nelson said: “We’re learning all the time, what’s transferring well from the US, what we need to tweak for UK market. Every time we open we learn loads and loads.
“We wanted to see what happened outside of London. You can be a fairly average operator and do well in London and fool yourself on the scalability of the business.”
Former Nando’s UK operations director Nelson joined MOD, which has 155 stores in the US, after being won over by its innovative take on pizza, which sees customers choose their own toppings at the counter, with their pizza made to order in five minutes.
“I had no intention of getting involved in another pizza business, because it’s the last thing the world needs”, Nelson said. “If I’m being honest there’s been no innovation tie pizza market in 40 years, nothing really has changed.
“MOD have decided they’d like to do something different. They have asked what would happen if we created a fast casual version of pizza?”
Nelson spent time with backer Sir Charles Dunstone, the Carphone Warehouse founder and Five Guys backer, as well as MOD founders Ally and Scott Svenson before coming on board.
He said while some operators like Pizza Pilgrims might appeal to younger hipper customers, Nelson said MOD was much more inclusive.
“The customer demographic is huge”, he said. “We get mums, dads, grannies, grandads – it’s a broad church the likes of which I’ve not seen before. You don’t have to be young hip or cool, its open to everybody.”
MOD is also importing the American service style to the UK, which Nelson said customers were appreciating.
“The Great British public are lapping it up”, he said. “They enjoy being looked after and made to feel welcome. In the states they go to great lengths to drive service culture. In the UK at best you might get a grunt if you ask for something, and we were determined that this would not be the case.”
Nelson said MOD had a long way to go before it rivals the likes of PizzaExpress – but admitted the very idea had tempted him to join.
“It’s one the big compelling reasons I came across, because I thought wouldn’t it be phenomenal in 10 or 15 years’ time if we had 300, 400 in the UK”, he added. “But for the moment, let’s get five up and trading, and learn, one commitment at a time, grow the business, one foot in front of the other.”
With so many fast casual brands in new developments and high streets, particularly burgers and pizzas, could the market be getting over saturated?
“I do think in some parts of the UK there is over saturation where you’ve got 40 or 50 players in a town centre. There are brands opening five in a town where just going to cannibalise their own sales. But I think the market will flush this out over time.
“There’s lot of innovation going on, especially with millennials looking for something funky and fresh. Those that are a bit staid and bored and haven’t adapted, we’ve seen what’s happening to them. It’s going to stay competitive, but that’s great because it keeps you hungry and focused.”