After years of being inspired by a subculture of the United Kingdom, Bellevue-based pizza chain MOD Pizza will be bringing its fresh pizza on demand to Great Britain.
That’s the newest development of the fast-casual restaurant, but for owners and founders Scott and Ally Svenson, who moved MOD Pizza to Bellevue after starting it in Seattle, just one facet of their planned massive growth.
“We started expanding last year. We went from 31 stores to 92 at the end of the year,” Scott said. “This year we started at that 92 and will end the year with around 190 stores. That’s adding approximately 100 stores including four in the U.K.”
That exponential growth is something the Svensons have taken years to look into. When MOD was founded in 2008, the two were confident in their model, despite acknowledging the risks that come with a “new” business model.
“The simplest answer is that we successfully brought a popular format to a very popular food,” Scott said. “The pizza industry is a $40 billion industry, second only to hamburgers.”
MOD, which stands for “Made On Demand,” takes the format that chains like Subway and Chipotle have brought to sandwiches and burritos, respectively. The Svensons wanted customers to have input on what they put on their pizza and see it made freshly in front of them.
It’s paid off, even if going was relatively slow at first. In the first several years of the new business, the Svensons added new stores slowly, hoping to see their idea gain traction first in Puget Sound, then Spokane, Portland, California and elsewhere. Soon to come restaurants include locations in Yakima, Bend, Oregon, Tucson, Arizona, Kansas City, Missouri, Louisville, Kentucky and Columbus, Ohio.
The locations opening in the United Kingdom will be in a city in the Midlands, a working-class northern city, a resort town and — conspicuously — not London. At least not yet.
That’s despite the heavy influence of 1960s London in the Mod subculture.
“Our brand is a little rebellious and that thread goes throughout all of our stores,” Ally said. “Stay in a store long enough and you’ll hear The Who. Our motto is “speed, style, pizza,” and that middle word definitely defines it all.”
The locations try to keep some local flavor, and no one store looks identical to any other. Some local culture and photos provided by the community adorn the walls.
But where MOD Pizza really embraces the “rebellious” aspect of its name is in the treatment of its employees. The Svensons are unabashed in treating their close to 3,000 employees like people they don’t want to lose.
Sweethearts at Bellevue High School, the Svensons have four sons. Some of their pizzas are named after their sons, like Scott’s go-to pizza, the Caspian — a barbecue chicken pie. The other sons, Tristan, Jasper and Dillon have pizzas of their own as well. Ally rolls with the Lucy Sunshine pizza, as she’s a fan of the company’s red sauce.
They had founded and sold two chains before MOD in the United Kingdom, Seattle Coffee Company and Carluccios.
“Building another restaurant chain didn’t hold a lot of allure,” said Scott, who became MOD’s chief executive officer in 2012. “We actually got turned on by the idea of what could we use that concept to accomplish in the community. We have focused on making a difference in the lives of our employees.”
MOD starts employees as $10.50 an hour ($13 in Seattle) and attempts to make as much of a “living wage” for employees as possible, providing vacation time, sick days, healthcare and other benefits like the “Bridge Fund,” a privately-funded account which can help employees in emergencies. Another fund, the “Journey Fund,” acknowledges that not every employee wants to make pizza for a career. It helps employees finance their dreams or go back to school.
“We’re fortunate to be in an industry where if the economics and volumes are right, we can make a fair profit,” Scott said. “It’s enlightened capitalism. We’re a for-profit company but have a positive social impact through our employees.”
Ally said that taking care of employees will lead to them caring more about the job and customer experience and thus bringing happy customers back again. Supposedly it all flows together.
“Performance counts,” she said. “Everybody is on board with that thinking. Is it sustainable? We were so methodical when we first started that we believe so.”
“MOD-Squad” employees include those with dyed hair, tattoos and with a criminal record. According to the Svensons, things which might make you difficult to employ at other companies shouldn’t preclude you from a comfortable job and benefits.
“We accept people for who they are,” Scott said. “A lot of brands want you to conform to their model.”
“We want to nurture that individuality,” Ally said. “Our logo is the form of a shield because we want to be able to provide that safe environment for individuals.”