MOD Pizza aims to grab a slice of the market through pizza with a side order of social conscience. Ismail Mulla explains.
Those were the words that Ally Svenson uttered to Scott Svenson when they sat down to discuss their next big venture.
So it seems strange that they would then go on to launch MOD – Made on Demand – Pizza. A fast growing US pizza chain.
However, as they planned their next big move in business, following success with the Seattle Coffee Company, which they sold to Starbucks – helping the US coffee giant gain a foothold in the European market – they wanted something that would make a real difference.
A difference that would go beyond just profit.
Mr Svenson says he and his wife are great believers in “enlightened capitalism”.
He said: “For us enlightened capitalism means on the one hand trying to build a business that is unapologetically for profit so that it’s sustainable and that its successful and has the resources to grow.
“But then to use that business as a platform to make a positive social impact.”
This positive social impact and new way of delivering a pizza experience debuted in the UK last week.
And the company has chosen Leeds as the starting point, with the city hosting the first ever MOD Pizza restaurant in the UK.
Part of the reason why Leeds got the nod was because the city has a sense of community.
Mr Svenson said: “To be honest where we do best in the States is where there is a strong sense of community because MOD very much becomes a part of the community.
“It’s a place where people love to come and spend time with their family, and kids love to come with their friends. One of our biggest customer bases is youth sports team.
“The reality is there’s a strong sense of community in places like Leeds, which we find very attractive.”
He also says that Leeds has a “entrepreneurial, dynamic, creative” energy that fits in with the pizza chain’s culture.
MOD says it will differentiate itself from other traditional pizza players in the UK by offering a “fast casual” dining experience.
A combination of the best attributes of fast food and the best attributes of casual dining, says Mr Svenson.
He added: “You have an experience that is fast and very affordable like fast food but the quality of the food, the individualisation, the environment, the overall experience is much more similar to a casual dining experience.”
When customers visit MOD they go to the counter and co-create their pizza and salads with the staff, choosing toppings.
All pizzas and salads, regardless of the number of toppings, are the same flat price of £7.47. There is no table waiter service.
While launching the Seattle Coffee Company, Mr and Mrs Svenson spent over a decade in the UK. In fact they sold the coffee chain to Starbuck so that they could return to be closer to their family in Seattle.
MOD, established in 2008, has now presented an opportunity to the Svenson’s to continue their association with Britain. In fact British music from the Mod era of the 50s and 60s has had a big influence on parts of the company’s culture.
With The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks playing in the background at the restaurant in Cardigan Fields, Mr Svenson says “we do love the spirit and the energy that came from that time”.
Mr Svenson will still be based in Seattle. However, to help make MOD a success across the Atlantic he has enlisted the help of retail heavyweight Sir Charles Dunstone, best known for founding Carphone Warehouse.
The MOD brand is being brought to the UK in a joint-venture with Sir Charles and Roger Taylor, a former director of TalkTalk Group.
The Leeds restaurant will employ 40 people and Mr Svenson says they are looking to open another “four or five” restaurants across the UK this year.
Brighton has already been announced as the second location in the UK to get a MOD Pizza restaurant with an August opening date pencilled in.
Creating jobs and giving people an opportunity was a key motivating factor for setting up the business in the first place.
“We’ve always been believers than in life all you really have is the journey. It’s not a destination,” said Mr Svenson.
The group currently employs 2400 staff across over 125 locations.
Mr Svenson said: “The purpose behind Mod is to employ people who need an opportunity, who need to be given a chance. In some cases a second chance. We have a very diverse group of people employed.
“Within that population of over 2400 team members we have a lot of people who needed us. They needed somebody to believe in them. They needed an opportunity.”
Working at MOD isn’t just meant to be a short-term stop gap, Mr Svenson says, “they can look at it as a long-term job or even a career”.
He added that there is scope for career progression and the firm empowers and gives them latitude as to how they run their respective stores.
“We’re not a company that has a lot of rules. We focus more on values or principles,” says Mr Svenson.
Core to those values are the local communities that MOD serves.
At the grand opening of the Leeds store, the firm invited young people’s charity, Breeze.
Mr Svenson said that 100 per cent of proceeds from all pizza sales on the opening day will go to Breeze.
The reason for giving back to the community is to role model for “our MOD squad”, says Mr Svenson.
He hopes that it will spur “a habit of giving” amongst staff at the Leeds branch.
While they turned the Seattle Coffee Company into a successful business and sold it on, the plan isn’t to do the same with MOD.
If MOD does succeed in its aim to have a positive social impact then perhaps the world did need another pizza chain after all.
Scott Svenson profile
Title: Co-founder and CEO of MOD Pizza
Date of birth: 2-2-66
Lives: Seattle, WA USA
Favourite holiday destination: Italy
Last book read: Happier by Ben Tal-Sharar
Favourite film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Favourite song: Baba O’Reilly by The Who
Car driven: Tesla
Most proud of: My wife and four boys
Education: Harvard University, Government