Just four years ago, the Dayton area was ground zero in a budding quick-serve pizza war, with national and regional chains gearing up to infiltrate the region with restaurants, eager to seize what they seemed sure was going to be their generous slice of the local market.
Fast-forward four years, and the battlefield is strewn with casualties, with what appears to be one victor, at least for now, in this niche segment of the market: Kettering-based Rapid Fired Pizza.
Rapid Fired opened its first location, on Ohio 725 east of the Dayton Mall in September 2015, introducing a relatively new pizza concept to the Dayton area: fast-casual, or quick-bake, pies. That’s where customers choose their own toppings in a serving line similar to Chipotle or Subway, and their custom-made pies are then fast-baked in three minutes or less in an blazing-hot oven. The fast-pizza concept had taken the West coast by storm in the early part of this decade, and the Midwest was considered prime territory for expansion, despite the robust number of traditional pizza restaurants and carry-outs here.
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That fall, this news outlet talked with three other pizza chains with very similar concepts to Rapid Fired — Seattle-based MOD Pizza, Cleveland-based PizzaFire, and Pasadena, California-based Blaze Pizza — and all said they were planning to enter the Dayton-Cincinnati market in a big way. Representatives of both MOD and PizzaFire said they were planning 10 locations across southwest Ohio.
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“We’re looking at Centerville, Englewood, the UD area, Kettering … we’re looking all over the Dayton area,” Garyen Denning, managing partner of Lexington, Kentucky-based Cool Dough Development, the southwest Ohio franchisee for MOD Pizza, told us at the time.
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MOD Pizza did indeed open two Dayton-area locations in 2017, in Englewood and Centerville. Last weekend, on Saturday, Sept. 14, the chain’s Cornerstone of Centerville location shut down abruptly. Messages left with MOD Pizza corporate officials, and with local franchisee Cool Dough Development, this week seeking comment on the factors that led to the Centerville closing and the future of the Englewood pizza shop, went unanswered. The Englewood MOD Pizza location remains open and operating, business as usual, its employees say.
PizzaFire, meanwhile, opened a restaurant on Far Hills Avenue in Kettering in October 2016, even before MOD Pizza entered the market. But that store shut down in January 2018, without explanation, and PizzaFire’s plans for a quick expansion in the Dayton-area market have not been revived.
Blaze Pizza opened a location on Mason-Montgomery Road in Mason, which remains open and operating. But it never entered the Dayton-area market.
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Rapid Fired Pizza stands in stark contrast to its competitors, at least in the Dayton area. The Kettering-based chain — co-founded by Ray Wiley, who also co-founded Hot Head Burritos and who has operated multiple Subway sandwich locations — started fast in 2015, and has stayed in expansion mode, since opening that first Washington Twp. store.
Today, Rapid Fired operates 34 stores in six states, including 10 restaurants in the Dayton area. And it is gearing up to open its 11th local store on Brown Street near the University of Dayton campus, perhaps as early as this month. A 12th Dayton-area location is coming to the Kroger store in Austin Landing in Miami Twp. Outside of Dayton, and in other states, dozens more Rapid Fired Pizzas are in the works, Wiley says.
How has Rapid Fired defended its turf so effectively?
“I think we have done a good job with marketing, which I believe has helped us in competing with MOD and other pizza concepts,” Wiley said. The chain also has adapted effectively, adding family-style pizzas to its original lineup of personal-sized pizzas; obtaining licenses to serve craft beer, wine and margaritas at many of its stores; and adding specialty items such as desserts and a gluten-free, low-carb pizza crust. Delivery is available via DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats at Rapid Fired locations based on availability.
The pace of Rapid Fired’s expansion in the Dayton area will start slowing, however.
“We feel we have enough locations in Dayton to service the area,” Wiley said.
The market for quick-serve pizza has not necessarily cooled, the Rapid Fired Pizza co-founder said. “But I will say, with so much pizza in the market, having the right location is very important.”
Asked via email if Rapid Fired had kicked its competition’s collective rear end in the Dayton market, Wiley replied, “Hmmm. Maybe.”
The comment was followed by a smile-face emoji.