16-year-old Iranian immigrant, founder builds pizza cooks from scratch | Franchise News
âI remember it very well. I arrived in New York on August 28, 1978, âsaid Shahpour Nejad, who at 16 moved to the United States as the Iranian revolution unfolded in his home country and had the opportunity to ‘to study abroad.
âI didn’t speak English at all,â he recalls, but with a supportive host family and later his first pizza delivery job, Nejad’s trip took him from Cleveland to Sacramento, Calif. where he launched his own pizza concept, Pizza Guys, which is now approaching 100 locations and increased its average gross sales by nearly $ 170,000 last year.
Najed’s story is part of a Franchise Times digital series this month featuring the founders’ successes.
âEveryone was prosperous, so was my family. I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family, âsaid Nejad of his childhood in Sari, an Iranian town near the Caspian Sea coast. While attending high school in Cleveland, the uprising in Iran ultimately led to the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty and the rise of the Islamic Republic.
âI couldn’t go back to Iran because the war had started,â he said. With economic ties with Iran severed and his family unable to send him money, Nejad took a job as a pizza driver and “just worked really hard,” he said. Hard enough for the restaurant owner to offer him a partnership opportunity that lights up a future he hadn’t envisioned.
Instead of pursuing an engineering career, Nejad sold his stake after graduating, moved to California where he had an extended family, and used the money to start his own restaurant, Superb Pizza, in Sacramento in 1986. .
âI sent my diploma to my parents and I said, hey, there you go. You paid for it, but I’m going to stay in the pizza business, âlaughed Nejad, who noted that he felt he could count on his own passion and work ethic to build a successful business.
His first Superb Pizza, however, got off to a rocky start.
âIt was a little scary. You have to start from scratch, âhe said of obtaining financing and finding suppliers and contractors in a new state. âI knew it would be a tough road, but I had to do it. “
Nejad said he “got ambitious” with his first restaurant, keeping the 65-seat dining room from a second-generation space, which was “totally different” from the delivery and take-out model. which he was used to. âThe next store, we said OK, no dining room,â Nejad said, and that store paid for itself in six months.
This model of delivery and take-out is one that Pizza Guys, the name Nejad adopted when he decided to launch the franchise in 1994, follows today. The system has grown to more than 70 locations in California, Oregon and Nevada, with eight more expected to open this year with plans to expand to Arizona, Washington, New Mexico and Utah.
The cost of opening a Pizza Guys franchise ranges from $ 78,300 to $ 262,500, including a franchise fee of $ 25,000.
Pizza Guys, Nejad noted, is enjoying increased interest in the pizza category as potential franchisees are drawn to the resilience it has shown during the COVID-19 pandemic as existing franchisees open new stores . Nejad has franchisees who worked with him in his first stores and are now increasing their number of units, which he says is particularly rewarding and part of what has pushed him to continue growing the business for over. 30 years old.
Average gross sales crossed the $ 1 million mark in 2020, up from $ 844,827 in 2019, as Pizza Guys’ delivery and take-out model was ideally suited to consumers looking for convenient food options and low contact during the pandemic. Pizza Guys, like many restaurants in the first weeks and months of the crisis, donated pizza to hospitals and first responders, which Nejad said was not only the right thing to do, but has also increased the brand’s visibility in the communities where it operates, helping to drive sales.
âAnd people notice we’re not in a price war like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, with their $ 5.99 pizzas, it’s not us. Our niche is specialty pizza, âsaid Nejad of the brand’s use of fresh produce, natural and non-GMO ingredients, and grated mozzarella cheese daily from 40-pound blocks.
After 35 years at the helm, Nejad is as actively involved in the business as he was on day one, he said, and although he regularly receives calls and emails from outside investors and of private equity firms, this is not the path he sees for Pizza Guys.
âThey don’t know the value of my business. They look at the numbers, âNejad said of investor interest. âI am not interested in selling. I have a passion for it. “