Piece of the pie: New restaurant highlights demand for pizza

franchise owners

With two rotations and two minutes in a large brick oven, customers at 1,000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza can expect to get a piece of the pie pretty quickly.

franchise owners

Mark Connelly and Nadia Grosskreutz own and operate the 1,000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza on South 42nd Street in Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Owners of the new pizza place on South 42nd Street describe their product as a cross between Neapolitan and New York styles, which they hope will separate themselves from the rest of the local pizza market they joined this week.

“In every other respect, it’s pizza,” said Mark Connelly, an owner of the business. “I think it’s the best quality pizza we could find.”

The American consumer’s appetite for the cheesy, saucy pies is growing, and locals seem to be no exception. Even by conservative definitions of “pizza restaurant,” Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are home to roughly 15 different pizza brands, including corporate shops and independent restaurants.

Operators of those restaurants say they try to separate themselves from the competition with prices, unique recipes and styles, and markets they aim to serve. And there seems to be plenty of dough to go around.

U.S. pizza sales topped $38.5 billion in the year that ended September 2014, according to figures from CHD Expert and Technomic cited by PMQ Pizza Magazine. That’s up roughly 3 percent from the previous year.

There may be a simple reason for that demand.

“Pizza’s the best,” said Matt Winjum, a co-owner of Rhombus Guys in downtown Grand Forks.

1,000 Degrees, which is connected to the Baymont Inn and Suites and had its grand opening Thursday, is the latest pizza chain to move into Grand Forks. Based in New Jersey, the brand has more than 10 restaurants in operation but plans to expand. The Grand Forks location is its first restaurant in North Dakota.

Connelly said he tried a number of the existing pizza places in town as he helped developed the restaurant but still saw an opportunity to add something unique to the market.

When asked what sets 1,000 Degrees apart from the plethora of pizza options in the area, managing partner Nadia Grosskreutz said, “I think the atmosphere, just seeing the pizza getting cooked in front of you.”

The restaurant features a Subway-like topping bar to craft a unique pie.

The pizza place’s preparation and ingredients may be different, but the end result is almost always the same: a circular piece of dough covered in sauce, cheese and toppings.

“Everybody kind of does everything a little bit differently,” Winjum said. “For me, it’s pizza, but it’s so much more. The crust is just kind of like the canvas.”

While Rhombus Guys gets most of its business from dine-in customers, other places don’t offer that option. One of them is Deek’s Pizza on North Washington Street, which only delivers and provides take-out.

Deek’s owner Tyler Kuenzel said they focus on the college student market.

“Our main customer is the college community,” he said. “Delivering until 3 (a.m.) helps, and then just trying to make sure you’re giving the best possible value to the customer is mainly how we try and do it.”

Asked which market Marco’s Pizza concentrates, area representative Joe Deck said they look for “swing sets and pools.”

“We’re really after families,” he said, adding their south end location is poised to take advantage of new home development.

But the opening of another pizza restaurant marks some fresh concerns for Deck.

“What’ll happen is the market will shake somebody out,” he said. “We welcome any new business to Grand Forks, but I hope there are enough dollars to go around for everybody.”

Others were less worried.

Spicy Pie opened near the Columbia Mall in December 2014. That brand’s marketing director, Mary Brown, said they consider “any restaurant competition,” whether it’s serving pizza, burgers, tacos or other menu items.

“In North Dakota, any larger town you go to there’s going to be a ton of restaurants and a ton of competition around for any restaurant coming into town,” she said.

But pizza may have an advantage in its near-universal appeal.

“If you find somebody who doesn’t like pizza, then they might be crazy,” Brown said. “Pizza’s always a good go-to for families, for friends, for eating comfort food by yourself.”