When you're hankering for a hot, gooey slice of pizza, you can always opt for the standard, big-name pizza chains like Domino's, Pizza Hut, or Papa Johns to satisfy your craving. But sometimes, it pays to expand your repertoire.
Whether you grab a slice at a local mom-and-pop shop or order a pie from an up-and-coming chain, there are plenty of ways to diversify your pizza intake. And your options are improving all the time.
According to a new report by data analytics firm Placer.ai, several regional pizza chains have experienced tremendous growth in recent years. Many are now expanding into new markets, bringing their own unique brand of pizza-making to an ever-greater audience.
What should you know about these rising stars in the pizza industry? Let's dig in.
The aptly named Pizza Guys was founded by, you guessed it, a couple of guys. Shahpour Nejad and Reza Kalantari started in 1986 with one location in Sacramento, Calif. The duo began franchising eight years later. Since then, the business has steadily grown and now boasts more than 80 locations across California and Nevada, with plans to open more spots in Arizona and Texas. Last November, the chain announced an aggressive plan to open as many as 150 locations in the Lone Star State alone, most of them heavily concentrated in the Dallas and Houston areas.
The franchise is doing so well, of course, because of its artisan-style pizza. The company is especially proud of its ingredients. Its dough is made fresh daily at every location, and the tomatoes and cheese are sourced locally from California farms, according to the brand's website.
"Quick, clean, and definitely a step up from your standard Pizza Hut or Domino's," wrote one reviewer on Yelp.
Mountain Mike's Pizza
This up-and-comer also got its start in the Golden State. Mountain Mike's Pizza opened in Palo Alto in 1978, and the chain emphasizes family-friendly dining, offering arcades, big-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi in its restaurants. Today, the chain has almost 300 locations, with outposts in Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Washington, and Wisconsin. And it just keeps getting bigger. This past December, Mountain Mike announced plans to open 10 new restaurants in Washington State.
The chain is known for its fresh, rolled dough, real mozzarella, and freshly sliced meats and veggies. There's a whole Reddit thread titled, "When in California, you order Mountain Mikes." One commenter agreed, stating, "Mountain Mike's Pizza is hands down the best pizza on the West Coast. I like to call those mini crispy curly roni cups 'tiny teacups of joy.'"
If you ask Jim Grote what $1,300 can buy you, you'll likely be surprised by his answer. In 1963, he invested that amount to purchase the pizza shop in Columbus, Ohio, where he used to work. Donatos Pizza has since sprouted 400-plus locations across more than 20 states, with stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Washington, and beyond. The Grote family still runs the business and continues to expand, with new restaurants slated to open this year in Louisville, Ky., and Orlando, Fla.
TripAdvisor reviewers sing Donatos' praises. "I could eat this stuff in my sleep," proclaimed one customer. "I'm a retired chef, and I know good cheese and olive oil. They do bring it." Another happy customer described Donatos as "a little more flavorful compared to other corporate pizza chains, with a crisp thin crust and generous toppings." The customer sums it up nicely: "It is distinctly Donatos pizza, with its own character."
Dominating the list of up-and-coming pizza chains are franchises that got their start in California. Pizza Factory was founded more than 30 years ago in Oakhurst, Calif., and it now has more than 100 locations, primarily in suburban communities along the West Coast.. In 2022, it opened its first East Coast restaurant in Athens, Ga., and more stores are coming soon to Arizona, California, Idaho, and Texas.
The pizza chain is praised for its soft, pillowy crust. As one Redditor described it, "The crust is puffy and soft inside, while the outside has a satisfying crunch, similar to French Bread." Others laud the overall welcoming ambiance of both the restaurants and the staff. According to Yelp reviews, the "staff is very friendly and accommodating," while the "service was exceptional and the vibe was right. I love how they always seem to have great music playing!" one reviewer exclaimed.
Founded by Pasquale "Pat" Giammarco in 1978, Marco's Pizza is one of the fastest-growing pizza chains in the country. The franchise began with a single store in Oregon, Ohio, and it now has more than 1,100 locations throughout 30-plus states, as well as in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. Marco's is intent on a rapid expansion. The business says it's eyeing an additional 4,200 potential locations.
It makes sense that the chain has big plans for its future. The restaurant is well-loved by its customers, as evidenced by the reviews many leave online. "Marcos is my favorite chain pizza place by far. The pizza is pretty good, but the cheesy bread is amazing. It's the best bread of any chain hands down," one Reddit review said. Another stated in the same thread, "Marcos is our go-to. Never a bad experience and high quality."