He's at it again. S. Truett Cathy, the 87-year-old founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A, is debuting yet another new restaurant concept, Upscale Pizza.
"It's just one of those unexpected opportunities I had," he says. "It's been real exciting, and it's a new adventure for me."
The independently owned and operated casual-dining restaurant, which opened May 1 in Fayetteville, Georgia, offers a variety of specialty and create-your-own pizzas, soups, sandwiches, salads, hot wings, and hot dogs. It also boasts kids' meals and dessert offerings such as ice cream, shakes, and pies.
"I encourage people to continue to eat chicken as well as pizza," Cathy says. "But as good as Chick-fil-A is, they can't eat it six days per week."
Located in what was previously a McAlister's Deli, Upscale Pizza offers dine-in and carryout service but no delivery. The 3,900-foot facility can seat 90 people and features a pedal car–themed décor.
"It's got a casual appearance, like you're dining on your terrace at home," Cathy says.
It's also likely that Upscale Pizza will be the only one of its kind.
"Right now we're concentrating on the thing we're known for, Chick-fil-A," Cathy says. "We're expanding that."
But Dan Rowe, CEO of franchise development company Fransmart, suspects Cathy is being coy.
"I wouldn't believe for a second that he's not going to grow it," Rowe says. "If the concept works, they’re going to grow it. And I would expect it to be a very good concept, just knowing how well those guys operate. For them to put their quality on it, I would expect it to be a very successful business."
Though no Chick-fil-A items will be served at the restaurant, Upscale Pizza does share some commonalities with its quick-service counterpart. It, too, will not open on Sundays and will keep with Cathy's philosophy of not serving alcohol.
"We want it to be a place where families feel comfortable coming," he says. "It'll cater to adults, too, but to a family grouping and young people in particular."
The restaurant marks the fifth concept created by Cathy, who recently celebrated his 62nd year in the restaurant industry. His first diner, The Dwarf Grill, opened in Atlanta in 1946, and Chick-fil-A marked its 40th anniversary last year. Cathy also founded Truett's Grill, a three-location casual-dining concept, and Marko's, a higher-end concept in Port Orange, Florida, that closed two years ago.
"There are always some disappointments along the way, but overall we've been successful," he says.
In this endeavor, Cathy will also have his work cut out for him. Soaring commodity prices have resulted in sharp increases in the price of cheese and flour, two of the main ingredients in pizza. As a result, many in the segment—chains and independents alike—are finding it hard to make a profit, says "Big Dave" Ostrander, a pizzeria consultant with Michigan-based Dave Ostrander Consulting.
"It's a very trying time for pizzerias," he says. "Expenses are rising so quickly."
But Cathy says he's up for the challenge.
"The pizza business is very competitive," he admits, "but we think we can beat our competition because of the quality of our food and the people that we've been able to attract."
Asked how he plans to deal with ever-rising expenses, Cathy says Upscale Pizza will continue to focus on value.
"We won't go up on the prices until we have to," he says. "We like to be reasonable in our pricing, and we hope to have the volume so that we can keep that up."
And if the grand opening was any indication, that shouldn't be a problem.
"We had more people outside waiting than we had inside," Cathy reports, adding that on the fifth day of business, one customer bragged that he had already been to the restaurant five times.
Despite the opening of Upscale Pizza, Cathy says Chick-fil-A will remain his main focus, and he has no plans to step aside as CEO anytime soon.
"I still enjoy going to the office," he says.
But he does admit that this could be the last new concept he will launch.
"I think this is going to be it," he says. "This is my contribution to society."