The build-your-own notion isn’t a foreign one to Australians — think Subway and Mero Mero. But when it comes to custom pizzas, the closest you get is adding jalapenos to a supreme. The US is flooded with lucrative fast casual pizza restaurants that put the power in the customers’ hands, which is why Rockpool Dining Group was keen to emulate the concept on a local level with Fratelli Famous.

Fratelli Fresh is a brand known for Italian eats, with their pizza and pasta dishes hitting the spot for Sydneysiders and Melburnians alike. Rockpool purchased Fratelli Fresh in April 2016 with plans to evolve the brand in a number of ways. “One of the first things we wanted to do was come up with a small-format version using the great Fratelli name,” says Thomas Pash, CEO of Rockpool Dining Group. “We wanted a fast casual [venue] modelled after the innovators in the US market that was focused on a build-your-own concept.”

There are four Fratelli Famous venues in Australia, with three located in Sydney and the fourth in Brisbane. So how does it differ from Fresh? First and foremost, Famous is strictly pizza and salads. The pizza crust is the same you get at Fresh, but at Famous, the process is completely customisable. “You pick your crust and go down the line and put your ingredients on top of it,” says Pash. “It’s amazing, fresh ingredients and you can do endless combinations.”

But endless combinations weren’t always on the menu, with Famous briefly limiting the options. “At first, we let customers do unlimited and they put whatever they wanted on it and they loved it,” says Pash. “And then Neil [Perry] said, ‘Well, I think some of these people are creating pizzas that I don’t think are that great’. So we said it won’t be unlimited, but customers liked the flexibility of putting two or 10 toppings on. Now, we’re back on unlimited toppings and letting the customer doing the full customisable experience.”

There are three sizes available, with a personal pizza priced at $10. Customers can select from a classic Neapolitan or gluten-free base before opting for green, white or red sauce. Next, a choice of six cheeses and five seasonings are available and protein is selected. Finally, unlimited toppings are on offer, with seven dressings completing the preparation process that’s handled by six staff who pass the pizza down the line. “We try to keep it seasonal and change the toppings out every 60 days,” says Pash. “Neil hand-selects produce every season and thinks about the toppings we should offer.”

Speed is another crucial component of Famous’ offering. The venues are able to crank out upwards of 300 pizzas an hour at 90 seconds each thanks to a combined gas and wood-fired oven imported from the US. “These ovens keep a high, constant temperature,” says Pash. “We looked at the best technology from all over the world and similar players in the US are all using this oven. We were the original importer of those ovens and brought a bunch to the market. They’re the Rolls-Royce of pizza ovens.”

Like all new ventures, there are teething issues. But Famous has managed to navigate obstacles with Rockpool’s experience in the fast casual sector. “With any new concept, it takes a while,” says Pash. “We opened four [Famous venues] and it’s been a constant fine-tuning process. It’s gone smoothly and there’s been a great reception. A lot of people would walk up and see this line of 100 people and think the wait will be forever, but they don’t realise you can be through the line in a few minutes and the pizza cooks in 90 seconds. Famous is now over a year old and the stores are all profitable. We are definitely looking for additional locations to grow the concept.”

In terms of staff, Famous has the company’s best pizza talent in the kitchen, especially during peak times. “There’s an art to working the pizza oven and being able to do 12 or 15 at one time without burning them,” says Pash. “The training department that does premium training has also done all the training for fast casual.”

Rockpool Dining Group is well known for its premium offering, and their fast casual venues are no different to their fine dining restaurants in terms of quality and experience. “The premium DNA is in everything we do,” says Pash. “We wanted high-quality ingredients and the best crust in a fast casual format. And that doesn’t change whether we are premium or fast casual — it’s just more convenient. The DNA stays in our company from our premium brands all the way down to fast casual and casual.”

The build-your-own concept is clearly a hit for Australian consumers, with 80 percent of customers returning to Famous four times a month. Expansion is on the cards for Fratelli Famous, so it’s only a matter of time before the concept is rolled out across the nation.

This article originally appeared in Hospitality’s October edition. 

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