Statesboro's newest pizza place doesn't really cook anything in the sense of heating it. Instead, Papa Murphy's Pizza crew members make fresh pizza dough, form it into crusts, top them with other fresh ingredients, and hand customers the pizzas with instructions on how to bake them at home.
It's called take-and-bake pizza. To millions of Americans, a take-and-bake pizzeria is not a new concept, and Papa Murphy's is the leader in the field.
"It's a huge West Coast thing," said Patrick Patton, franchise owner and hands-on general manager of the new Papa Murphy's at the corner of Brannen Street and Gentilly Road. "It's almost like it has its own culture or following. You go out west to Oregon or California ... you ask about a pizza, it's a Papa Murphy's, and if it isn't Papa Murphy's, it's a local pizzeria."
Founded in 1981 as Papa Aldo's Pizza, the Vancouver, Washington-based company took its current name after merging with another take-and-bake pizza maker, Murphy's Pizza, in 1984.
Today, the Papa Murphy's brand is on more than 1,400 stores in 38 states, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. These include independently owned franchises such as the one Patton has just launched, as well as corporate-owned stores.
However, in operation since Nov. 17 but with its grand opening next week, the Statesboro store becomes just the fifth Papa Murphy's in Georgia, according to a public relations representative.
Watch them work
Employees feed the mozzarella onto a shredder and slice the ingredients. The crust is made fresh every day, Patton said. This doesn't involve tossing the crust into the air. Instead, an employee was busy feeding the dough into an electrically powered sheeter and forming the crusts onto round trays.
Crusts made in the morning can then be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator but, labeled with the date, are to be used no later than that night. Vegetables, such as tomatoes, mushrooms, red and yellow onions and big, green bell peppers, are kept in a walk-in refrigerator with a glass front, accessible to crew members who assemble the pizzas and visible to customers, who can watch their pizzas being made.
As the last step in assembly, a team member wraps the pizza and the oven-proof tray in plastic wrap for the ride home. The customer receives detailed, printed baking instructions, and employees offer some tips on how to use the directions, as they differ by type of crust.
The standard size is large. Topping choices vary from a cheese pizza with one of five sauces, to specialties such as "spicy fennel sausage," "Thai Chicken" and "Chicago-Style." "Gourmet Vegetarian" includes spinach, zucchini and artichoke hearts, among other meatless toppings, while the "Five Meat" and "All Meat" are at the other end of the scale.
Papa Murphy's also offers prepared bread dough for home baking, chocolate chip cookie dough and some dessert pizza items. A cooler displays five or six different prepared salads plus a basic salad to which customers can have toppings added.
Because nothing is cooked at the store, the pizzas and other Papa Murphy's items can be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars on an electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, card. Those benefits cannot be used on cooked food at restaurants, so this gives a take-and-bake place an advantage that doubters may not have considered. It's one of several reasons Patton chose this franchise opportunity.
"We wanted something that was not a processed food, something that was still healthy, that we didn't feel bad about a serving, and it also helps the community in a sense because, since we're an uncooked food, one can eat it whether they're down on their luck or well-to-do, because we do accept EBT also," he said.
Patton, who grew up in Richmond Hill, comes to this business venture after more than 12 years working for the Bryan County government, first as a deputy in the Sheriff's Department and then as a building inspector.
He and his wife, Laura, wanted to move to Bulloch County for the younger of their two teenage sons to finish high school at Southeast Bulloch, and meanwhile Patton wanted to go into business and secure his retirement, he said.
"I wanted to hold my own cards, in a sense, to ensure that I have something later," Patton said.
Getting started took a sizeable commitment. Patton mentioned an initial franchise cost of about $25,000, but when asked, revealed an overall investment 10 times that amount. "Built out like we are, about $250,000," he said.
Both those numbers fit neatly in the low end of the ranges of Papa Murphy's start-up and total investment costs reported by the International Franchise Association at www.franchise.org.
The new business shares the building with Firehouse Subs and AppleCare. The portion where Patton built his new business was a shell with no plumbing or wiring. An employee helped him pull up carpets and saw tracks for the plumbing, which was installed by a professional plumber.
Papa Murphy's currently employs nine, a majority of them college students.
The extended grand opening, with specials and games for prizes to be offered, is scheduled for January 8-11.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.