Sonoma County chef Glenn Cybulski says he isn’t worried about being a little late to the table for the create-your-own pizza craze.
Cybulski, a bona fide World Pizza Champion and certified Italian pizzaiolo, is co-founder and CEO of Santa Barbara-based Persona Wood Fire Pizzeria. The company, which this summer opened its first franchise in downtown Santa Rosa, is part of a wave of new restaurant chains that are offering made-to-order pizza fast and with just the ingredients and sauces the customer chooses.
How fast? For Persona, the pizza spends 90 seconds in an Italian-made wood-fired oven at 800 degrees. Once ordered, the pie typically is ready to eat in less than five minutes, Cybulski said.
A 12-inch cheese or Margherita pizza costs $7.95.
Cybulski, a Penngrove resident with more than 25 years in the restaurant business, sees the create-your-own segment as the biggest thing for pizza since take-and-bake.
“It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” he said Tuesday, seated at a table in the Persona restaurant at Fourth and D streets.
Persona now has three restaurants, including a new franchise in Columbia, S.C. But Cybulski predicts the company will have 250 outlets in five years.
If that sounds ambitious, consider that annual sales at fast-casual restaurants, including Chipotle Mexican Grill, are increasing at more than three times the rate of the total restaurant industry, according to Chicago-based market research firm Technomic.
And “build-your-own fast-casual concepts” last year grew sales twice as fast as made-to-order fast-casual brands, according to Technomic.
But several franchises have entered the create-your-own pizza segment. The largest is Rancho Santa Margarita-based Pieology, which has a Santa Rosa franchise on Mendocino Avenue. Its annual sales last year increased 230 percent, to $44.6 million, according to Technomic, and the company in June opened its 60th restaurant. Others include Pie Five Pizza, Blaze Pizza and Pizza Rev.
Cybulski, whose past eateries include Fregene’s Pizza in Petaluma, made clear he relishes the chance for diners to compare his pizza with the other guys.
“We make our sausage in-house,” he said. “We make our meatballs in-house,” as well as all the salad dressings.
The dough, made fresh every day, has no sugar or oil and is composed of very finely ground “00” flour.
Downtown Fourth Street already has “two very well-respected pizzerias” in Mary’s Pizza Shack and La Vera Pizza, Cybulski said. But he suggested there was plenty of opportunity, calling pizza the top hand-held food item in the United States.
The Santa Rosa franchise is owned by Nick Ulrich, who also is Persona’s national training manager. Cybulski said the local restaurant, which employs 15 to 20 workers, is Persona’s model outlet and on Tuesday was preparing for a visit by potential franchise buyers from New Jersey.
Cybulski and Ian Andewelt, Persona’s director of franchising, said the restaurant’s offerings especially appeal to a younger generation of diners.
“We’re bringing it to people the way they want it right now,” Andewelt said.
You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or email@example.com. On Twitter @rdigit.