Getting a Bigger Piece of the Pie
Chefs Scott McGehee and John Beachboard had a vision when they opened ZaZa Fine Salad & Wood-Oven Pizza Company in 2008: serve Napoli-style, wood-oven pizzas, fresh salads and homemade Italian gelato using the freshest ingredients available, at an affordable cost in a fast, casual atmosphere.
The concept has worked so well in Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood that the business partners opened a second restaurant in The Village at Hendrix in Conway last October. And that’s just the beginning.
The pair recently signed a franchise deal obligating the newly-formed ZaZa Development LLC to open 40 restaurants across the country in the next five years. ZaZa in Boca Raton, Fla., the first, is slated to open in summer 2011.
The franchise deal came about after McGehee and Beachboard met former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown, Jr., a businessman and entrepreneur, who purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from founder Harland “Colonel” Sanders and built it into a multimillion-dollar chain. Brown was involved in the opening of Bar Louis eatery in west Little Rock.
“They got a tip that we're a cool, up-and-coming concept. They came here to have dinner and were blown away,” McGehee said. “They loved the idea and made us an offer.”
As part of the deal, McGehee and Beachboard will open new restaurants in Arkansas, Missouri and Alabama, and retain a 28 percent stake in other stores opening nationwide. In Arkansas, West Little Rock and Fayetteville are potential sites. “Right now we’re looking for partners or franchisees in those two cities,” McGehee said.
McGehee, having grown up in the restaurant industry, brings more than two decades of restaurant experience to this latest venture. His great-grandmother owned the Red Apple Inn, and his father owned Juanita’s and Blue Mesa Grill in Little Rock. After graduating from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, McGehee attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and worked at Chez Panisse, where he learned the art of wood-oven pizzas.
After returning to Arkansas, he opened Boulevard Bread Company. Beachboard worked in marketing for a New York firm, but returned to Arkansas to pursue his culinary interests and signed on as McGehee’s sous chef. They began planning ZaZa, which is inspired by traditional Italian recipes (McGehee makes frequent trips to Tuscany where his uncle lives) and California fusion-style cooking. The concept is one they said fills a void in the market.
“The Napoli-style pizzas fit well in a fast, casual concept because they cook so quickly," McGehee said. "A thin-crust, Italian-style pizza cooks in an 800-degree oven in two minutes, and the great thing about Napoli-style pizza is the use of quality of ingredients; it pairs well with wine.”
ZaZa prides itself on being environmentally “low-impact.” The eco-friendly eatery buys local produce whenever possible — so much that the restaurant was the top buyer of organic produce from local farmers in Little Rock last year, purchasing $40,000 worth of locally-grown Heirloom tomatoes.
“It’s more difficult to make great Napoli-style pizza than American-style pizza because it requires skilled, craft people,” McGehee said. “The ongoing training is slightly more complicated than for an average franchise, but that’s also part of what the franchise company likes because it’s harder to duplicate. When you have a franchise that’s easy to duplicate, [the market] becomes saturated. And when you have a franchise that’s only related to one product, it can become a fad, and fads come and go.”
The pair continually works to improve their offerings. “John’s got an incredible palette and is very artistic. He just has a real flair for developing recipes,” McGehee said, of Beachboard.
While pizza, salads and gelato are ZaZa’s staples, a selection of hearty soups and stews are available in fall and winter, and wood oven-roasted sandwiches and chicken wings are new to the menu.
“We are a very female-driven business, especially at lunch with the salads,” McGehee said. “We expanded the menu to attract a broader market.”
With the franchise underway, McGehee and Beachboard are already meeting with a third partner on a new restaurant venture they hope to launch next year.
“It’s a restaurant with a very unique concept, one we think is as franchise-able, if not more so, than ZaZa,” McGehee said.
ZaZa Fine Salad & Wood-Oven Pizza Company is located at 5600 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 661-9292 and in Conway at 1050 Ellis Ave., (501) 336-9292, zazapizzaandsalad.com. They offer catering and will even bring their mobile wood-oven to your location to prepare pizza, tenderloin, salmon and other items.