Starbucks and Nike are iconic brands from the Pacific Northwest.
Now there’s another big name in the making that is muscling its way across America: Papa Murphy’s, the fifth-largest pizza chain in the United States. The chain of 1,300 pizza stores is about to step into Southwest Riverside County, and may return to North San Diego County in the next year or so, said a senior franchising executive with the Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s.
“We’ll add additional key markets over the next couple of years —- which could include San Diego County,” said Kevin King, chief development officer for Papa Murphy’s.
The chain once had a presence in San Diego County, but closed the restaurants after fumbling its menu for the health conscious under a different ownership group several years ago. New York-based Lee Equity Partners bought Papa Murphy’s in 2010 with the idea of boosting the brand’s expansion plans in the southwestern and southeastern U.S.
To date, the chain hasn’t had much of a presence south of San Francisco. But that’s about to change.
“We built about 100 stores a year for the last eight years. We’d like to increase that rate of growth to 150 to 200 in the next two or three years,” King said.
The very first Papa Murphy’s, which came about as the result of a 1995 merger of Papa Aldo’s Pizza in Hillsboro, Ore., and Murphy’s Pizza in Petaluma, is scheduled to open in Murrieta on Monday. There are no locations in Los Angeles County, and a handful in Orange County.
“The product does well in a down economy,” said Peter Wynia, the franchisor who has plans to open a total of eight Papa Murphy’s in a geographic footprint that includes Temecula, Lake Elsinore, Murrieta, Menifee, Perris and Hemet over the next two or three years.
Wynia fell into this Papa Murphy’s franchise territory by accident.
His last steady job was helping to develop new hotels out of his office in Spokane, Wash. He was familiar with Southwest Riverside and North County because of his work for a hotel development consultancy that led him to work here occasionally. Wynia, 38, traveled to the area several times to explore the possibility of building hotels in Temecula and Oceanside before the economic crash halted funding on new hotel construction in the late 2000s.
He left the hotel development job and moved his family to Phoenix, where he pursued a master’s degree in information technology from the University of Phoenix. But he tossed in the towel on pursuing an IT job because he couldn’t line up an internship. He all but dismissed the thought of getting a Papa Murphy’s franchise because of the tight hold of the 525 franchise owners in areas such as Washington, Oregon, Iowa and Utah.
While on a vacation to visit a brother who lives in San Marcos, Wynia’s wife, Lindsey, posed the million-dollar question: “Why isn’t there a Papa Murphy’s in this area?”
The couple had been accustomed to seeing one on seemingly every street corner in the Pacific Northwest, where they had lived most of their adult lives until the move to Phoenix.
“Other areas were locked up, but not here,” said Peter Wynia, who pulled his family’s stakes up from Phoenix and moved here in June. “I like this area. It’s very family-oriented.”
Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant industry consulting firm, said Papa Murphy’s is the leading “take ‘n’ bake” chain in the country, with estimated revenue in 2010 of $655 million, followed by Salem, Ore.-based Figaro’s Pizza with $20 million, Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza Co. with $15.4 million and Nick-N-Willy’s, a unit of Centennial, Colo.-based World Famous Pizza Co. Ltd., with $13 million.
“Papa Murphy’s without a doubt is the big player,” Tristano said. “Their competition tends to be warehouse clubs and supermarkets.”
Papa Murphy’s has an ordering concept similar to Subway sandwich stores, in which customers select the amount of cheese and ingredients to toss onto an uncooked pizza. Patrons then take these Cellophane-wrapped pizzas with them to bake in their kitchen ovens —- thus the nickname of “take ‘n’ bake pizza.”
The menu is simple. Pizzas range from $8 to $13 or so, with different sizes and thicknesses: original, stuffed and a “delite” thin-crust style for the health conscious. Dough for the pies is made fresh daily.
Zagat Restaurants Survey and Consumer Reports have given the chain’s pizza pies high grades in recent years. They’re ranked better than Domino’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, Sbarro and the other papa —- Papa John’s.