Feb. 21, 2005
Thirty-minute delivery: the unspoken, but sought-after standard in the pizza business.
Scott Matthew claims his company, Super Fast Pizza, can go from phone call to front porch in half that time.
His drivers take orders and cook pizzas while on the road in $60,000 mobile kitchens.
It's not. And the concept is in high gear in Fond du Lac, Wis.
After one too many soggy pizza deliveries, Matthew set out eight months ago to develop a revolutionary cook-and-deliver pizza system that would slash delivery times and increase product quality. By turning ordinary commercial vans into rolling pizzerias, Matthew's crews put hot pies before customers' eyes in 18 minutes on average.
"If you're used to pizza delivery taking 45 minutes, you can't imagine how quickly 15 minutes flies by," said Matthew, 47. "You hang up the phone, get the kids together, put out the paper plates and we're parked out front. It blows them away."
Customers have two ordering options: via phone or online through an Internet account.
Menu options are limited to seven pizzas: deluxe (multiple meats and veggies), sausage, sausage and pepperoni, five cheese, four meat, veggie, and a pizza of the month.
Prices are set, too: $10.99 for the first pie, and $4.99 for the next three pies thereafter.
hearts or anchovies on that? Sorry. You'll have to call some other pizza operation. Limiting toppings is essential to keeping the system simple, Matthew said.
The work area inside the van is tight, but not impossibly small. Operators enjoy more than 6 feet of vertical clearance inside.
The Chrysler Sprinter vans — they cost $40,000 each, but require $20,000 in kitchen equipment — have more than 6 feet of headroom and carry a supply of cold sodas.
Using a wireless Internet connection, orders are transmitted to vans in the field, an alarm rings and they're printed out. The driver — who works solo — goes to the van's kitchen area, pulls pre-made pizzas on parbaked shells from the cooler and places them in one of five concession-stand-style pizza ovens which cook at 600 F. (The well-secured kitchen equipment runs off onboard generators.) He then returns to the driver's seat and sets off to the delivery point.
"From the time the order comes in, until the driver is back in the driver's seat is about a minute," Matthew said. "Sometimes we get to the house before the pizza's ready, so we park while it bakes and then start on another order."
Tiny Fond du Lac is home to about 42,000 people living in a 2-square mile area. For Matthew, that equates to a lot of customers in a delivery area no wider than 3 miles. Currently he has eight employees who prep pizzas and drive two vans throughout the town. He's considering adding more vans as business increases, which it is weekly.
"We might sell a couple hundred pizzas on a busy Saturday night," said Matthew, whose business is open Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
During a typical weekend rush, the computer-controlled system is set up to refuse orders if drivers get backed up. "Our software is written so that when business gets beyond a certain number of orders, it actually refuses orders. ... Those customers automatically get $2 off their next order. And invariably, we find an order from those same customers the next day."
Despite the speedy delivery times, drivers' tips, it appears, are the same as those doled out to regular drivers. "I'd say our average tip is about 13 percent," Matthew said.
Matthew, who is not directly involved in Super Fast's operations, doesn't claim to be passionate about pizza making. Rather he views himself as an entrepreneur with a great idea for removing an
area of product vulnerability in pizza delivery: the time gap between oven to customer.
Super Fast Pizza's vans are converted $40,000 Chrysler Sprinters. Turning them into rolling pizzerias costs another $20,000.
He "retired" seven years ago after selling an electronics firm behind the technology for "the talking house." (Through a radio transmitter, people shopping for homes could pull in front of a house, tune their radios to a specific frequency and hear information about the property.)
"I guess I just know how to start businesses, he said.
Now he's envisioning Super Fast Pizza as a super-large business. His goal is to have 20,000 units nationwide in 20 years.
"If it can work in this town, it can work anywhere."
He first wants to tackle major cities in Wisconsin, such as Milwaukee. He believes servicing that city would take 150 employees and 50 vans.
Spreading out across America, however, will take investment capital, which he's already seeking. "We have a place on our Web site for people who might be interested in that."
Matthew declined to disclose sales figures, but according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, business has grown about 20 percent in each of the five months Super Fast has been open. That's a strong enough trend to convince Matthew he's on to something.
"I think there's a lot of potential for this," he said. "It's certainly better than waiting 45 minutes for a pizza."