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MOD Pizza

Made on demand

Food sustains us and that is serious business. But for most of us, it goes beyond eating to live. We want to feel good about our food, the experience, price and also have a little fun. Have we got a place for you.

MOD Pizza is good, fun and fast. "Simple food for complex times" sums it up. As owner Ally Svenson explains, it was born out of her family's own experience. "We have four children and are always looking for quick options. We don't want to feel junked out after a meal. And I don't want to feed my kids something I wouldn't eat." MOD makes their own sauce with fresh basil and garlic and their own dough. They offer pre-designed or guest-created pizzas, along with two salads, pizza "knots" and a few desserts. Beverages include hand spun milkshakes, pop, bottled drinks, wine and beer.

Each location is different, based on the neighborhood. Downtown Seattle was first,  opening in November 2008. Busiest during weekday lunch hours, they primarily serve office workers. The Bellevue location opened in January 2010. The office worker contingent is growing, but families currently make up the largest portion of their customers. The University District store opened in June 2010. "We're in the thick of learning right now," says Ally. "We want each place to feel different—we're building a chain of one-offs and want to organically develop the brand. Bellevue and University both have roll-up garage doors. The outdoor area is larger in Bellevue. Student connection to the brand has been amazing. We're watching to see what resonates where and will see what happens over the summer."

What is the same in each location is the fun factor and food quality. Although "MOD" stands for "made on demand," it also refers to the British mod culture; the music reflects that. "We're flexible with the music, but we play the Who and Clash. It's just cool," says Ally. The minute you walk into the restaurants, hear the music, see the staff smiling and, sometimes, singing, you feel the fun. Operations guru Chris Schultz is proud of the differences and similarities in the units. "They're each unique, the staff reflects the neighborhood, yet the quality of the product doesn't vary and the experience doesn't differ. There's a saying that walls talk when you go in a place. Our walls buzz. You can't buy that."

Ally Svenson (left) and Bellevue staff members Kyle and Karen

And what will all this fun cost you? $5.88 per pizza. Your own creation with lots of toppings? $5.88. With additions to a pre-designed pizza? $5.88. "We wanted to surprise people with the value they get for their dollar," says Ally. "We're marrying a fast food price point with higher-quality food." Limitations are more about how much the crust will hold. "We love everything Italian and were inspired by the street food. But our thin crust is New York-style."

Business is good and growing. How do they produce pizzas fast enough? Not an issue. Ovens operate at 800°; pizzas cook in two minutes. Each oven can cook 25 pizzas at a time. "Getting people through the line takes longer—that's the code that has to be cracked and the fun part to work on," says Ally.

Bellevue's MOD

Ally and husband Scott aren't new to this kind of challenge. Scott works in the financial industry and a job took them to the UK in 1988. Ally worked in publishing and their first two children were born there. However, Seattle and its coffee never left their blood. "Ninety percent of the coffee you got in the UK then was granulated—instant!" The horror is still apparent. In 1994, they started the Seattle Coffee Company out of desperation. "We tried to get Starbucks to open, but they were concentrating on the Far East," recalls Ally. "We started one little coffee mart. With people riding the tube for 40 minutes to get customized coffee, we realized we could expand." Eventually they had 65 locations in the UK and ten licensed in other countries. In 1998, Starbucks bought the company. Ally and Scott stayed until 2000, then returned to Seattle.

"We don't look for the next big thing, but if an opportunity presents itself, we pay attention," says Ally. "We were approached by a man obsessed with non-mass-produced pizza. We tasted his product and looked at Chipotle as a fast food/higher quality example. We loved the thin individual pizzas we got in London. The great pizza places here are restaurant/server oriented. We wanted to do a more fast/casual concept."

Friends introduced them to Chris Schultz (left), a Starbucks operations alum of 13 years. In a weird twist of fate, Chris was part of the Starbucks team that went to London when Ally and Scott's coffee company was purchased. "I found pictures with him in them," Ally laughs. Chris knew right away he wanted to be part of MOD. "After the first interview, I was ‘where do I sign?' We're building the brand based on people—our staff and customers. There are so many rules in restaurants. We ask ‘what do you want?' With every dollar you spend, you make a choice. People are surprised at what a decent break they get at MOD. Ally and Scott are passionate people and all about the staff and brand. And in these times, we're proud to have just put 25 more people to work at our University location. That feels good. Plus the staff know they're respected. They contribute in a big way to what the brand is."

As for the future, they'll do what comes naturally. "There was a void here and we're honored to fill that space. So far, the indication is that there's room to grow. But we're aware there is refining to do and we can't do it in a bubble." They want feedback from guests to continue to improve the business. Any form is fine—online, in the stores, directly to a staff member. Of course, you'll need to eat the pizza. Again and again and again.

MOD Pizza

One Union Square                    Capitol Hill                               Alderwood
1302 6th Ave.                          519 Broadway E                     
2902 164th St SW, Bldg C, Ste 6-7
Seattle, WA 98101                  Seattle, WA 98102                   Lynnwood, WA 98087
206-332-0200                         206-323-2221                         425-745-2209

Bellevue                                   Seattle Center                          Redmond
317 Bellevue Way NE              Armory Bldg, 305 Harrison     8900 161st Ave NE, Ste 165, Bella Botega
Bellevue, WA 98004                Seattle, WA 98109                 Redmond, WA 98052
425-455-0141                         206-428-6315                        425-497-5104

University District                     Sammamish
1414 NE 42nd St.                    22833 NE 8th St, Sammamish Plateau
Seattle, WA 98105                  Sammamish, WA
206-632-7111                         425-836-7345                Please check website for hours

Connie Adams/July 2010

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