Domino’s Pizza is officially the largest pizza chain in the U.S. and the world. With over 8,500 locations in the U.S. and more than 20,000 stores in total, Domino’s racked up more than $18 billion in worldwide sales in 2023. 

The Daily Meal, however, posits a different answer to the question of which American pizza chain is biggest: Hunt Brothers Pizza, sold at around 9,700 non-traditional locations throughout the U.S.

It’s easy to poke holes in this claim. For example, Hunt Brothers Pizza isn’t so much a restaurant as it is a pizza supplier for convenience stores across the country. Still, it’s interesting to consider the idea that Hunt Brothers has quietly become one of the most pervasive pizza brands in the U.S. via its unique business model. And the ease and speed of grabbing a quick slice or whole pie at a convenience store serves as a reminder that independent pizzeria operators aren’t just competing with Domino’s and Papa Johns.

After all, C-stores are everywhere. According to NACS, a global trade association for the industry, there are now 152,396 convenience stores operating in the U.S. That number reflects a 1.5% increase from the 2023 store count following a four-year decline.

Related: Why Gas Station Pizza Is Your Next Big Competitor

As The Daily Meal writes, Hunt Brothers “doesn’t build free-standing locations. Instead, it sets out to take advantage of existing architecture, putting pizza counters in existing gas stations and convenience stores across the South and Midwest, particularly in rural areas underserved by other chains.” 

The story estimates initial Hunt Brothers’ equipment costs check in somewhere around $10,000. So for the price of a couple months’ rent—and a fraction of what it would cost to start up a Domino’s location—a C-store owner can start serving pizza. 

There are some other unique aspects of the Hunt Brothers’ business model, including the fact that the supplier doesn’t charge any fees associated with franchising, advertising or royalties. Instead, the company charges for its ingredients, and that’s it. Hunt Brothers also reportedly does not typically have agreements in place with its “franchisees” (it might be more accurate to call those who sell Hunt Brothers “vendors”). In other words, a C-store can easily stop selling Hunt Brothers pizza if it isn’t working for them any longer. 

Despite that, the Daily Meal reports, Hunt Brothers’ sellers still get a protected territory. This is particularly significant considering Hunt Brothers typically targets rural markets, where C-store pizza might be the only show in town. With 9,700 locations, it’s a little scary for pizzerias to consider that Hunt Brothers Pizza isn’t quite a national brand yet, too.

“The fact that it’s able to have so many locations without appearing from coast to coast is due to the clever marketing and targeted business approach of its founders, who have aligned themselves with Southern culture, becoming heavily involved with NASCAR and even sponsoring a high-profile team and multiple cup-winning drivers,” notes The Daily Meal. “Hunt Brothers may not have the broad profit numbers of some of its larger competitors like Domino’s and Pizza Hut, but it operates a business model that is remarkably low-risk and steadily dependable. More companies could stand to learn from that idea.”

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