By Amy Wenk and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on August 2, 2013
An Atlanta company intends to fuel the franchise growth of a Georgia pizza chain.
Private equity firm Georgia Oak Partners LLC has announced it will make a “significant” investment in Your Pie, a fast-casual concept out of Athens that lets pizza lovers customize everything that goes on their personal pies, from the dough to the cheese.
“It’s an opportunity to put Georgia capital to work for a Georgia company that could have an impact beyond our state,” said A.D. Frazier, partner of Georgia Oak Partners and former chief operating officer of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. “These guys have a significant concept. We are certain this kind of concept will take off across the state.”
The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed. Your Pie Founder and CEO Drew French said it is a “seven-figure” investment and that Georgia Oak will have a minority stake in the business.
Georgia Oak’s capital infusion will mainly fund further franchise expansion of the brand. It will be the “fuel to the fire” for Your Pie, said French, a graduate of The University of Georgia who introduced the concept five years ago to the college town. Today, there are 17 locations of Your Pie in the Southeast. Eight more restaurants could open this year.
“A lot of other people are entering the niche we created,” French said, including concepts such as Uncle Maddio’s, which has been expanding quickly in metro Atlanta and just opened a new location at Ansley Mall in Midtown. “To grow at the rate we want to grow … we wanted to inject, not only financial capital, but intellectual capital. We’re real excited. We know that we have great partners now.”
Your Pie will continue to target cities in the Southeast, especially the Atlanta market, where it hopes to open a flagship restaurant. Today, its only location in the metro area is in Roswell.
Your Pie lets people build their own 10-inch personal pizzas. There are three dough options (including gluten-free), eight sauces, eight cheeses (including a vegan option) and about 40 toppings. The pies cook in a brick oven in three minutes.
“It’s a real hot category right now,” French said. “We’ve created a new way that people think about pizza. Now, everybody gets what they want.”
A typical restaurant is about 2,200 square feet and employs about 15 people.
“It’s a convenient format, a customized experience,” said David Barr, director at Georgia Oak Partners and former CEO of Great American Cookies Inc. Barr also serves on the board of directors of the International Franchise Association and has been involved with other restaurant chains including Pizza Hut, TCBY and Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group.
“We believe in the concept; we believe it’s scalable; and we believe it’s scalable through franchising.”
Your Pie was an attractive investment, he added, because the fast-casual segment of the restaurant industry is experiencing explosive growth.
“Consumers are flocking there,” Barr said.
Since 2000, the fast-casual segment has seen double-digit growth and now represents about 10 percent of the $375 billion restaurant industry, according to Chicago food industry research and consulting firm Technomic Inc. Last year, it had about$30 billion in sales in the United States.
Barr said he will work closely with existing management at Your Pie to guide franchisee and unit growth. “We will be working with them side-by-side. There will be zero management change. My role will be to serve on the board of directors.”
Your Pie marks Georgia Oak’s second investment since its start. Frazier launched the firm with Michael Lonergan, a veteran in the private equity and hedge fund fields.
The firm completed its inaugural transaction at the end of 2012 — acquiring a controlling interest in Alpharetta-based TeamOne Logistics, a transportation and logistics company founded in 2003.
The firm plans to hold most of its investments for at least five years and is focused primarily on businesses in Georgia with revenues of $10 million to $100 million.
In a January interview, Lonergan said the company was looking to deploy $50 million of capital in the next three to four years.
“You will see more [deals] from us before the year is out,” said the nearly 70-year-old Frazier, noting he likely won’t ever retire.
In addition to his Olympics role, Frazier was president and CEO of Invesco; chairman and CEO of Danka Business Systems; chairman of Gold Kist Inc.; president and chief operating officer of Caremark Rx Inc.; and chairman and CEO of the Chicago Stock Exchange.
“I’m loving every minute of it,” he said.