Pizza Inn has come a long way since Joe Spillman opened his first location in 1958 across from the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but the road has been filled with plenty of ups and downs. The pizzeria proved immediately successful and had already expanded into other locations when franchising began in 1963; aggressive growth accelerated in the late ’60s, and by the ’80s there were nearly 800 Pizza Inns in the United States. But when Spillman sold the company in the 1980s, overreaching debts caused Pizza Inn to fall into bankruptcy, which it eventually emerged from in 1991, becoming publicly traded in 1994. Today, 305 locations still stand in 18 states and nine foreign countries, says president and CEO Charlie Morrison from current headquarters in The Colony, Texas—and, he adds, the company is poised to make another comeback. “Last year, we opened more stores than we closed—that’s a big testament to our turnaround,” he says.
The secret to Pizza Inn’s success, says Morrison, is dedication to the product. The dough is made in-store from scratch every day, and the recipes remain unchanged from the originals. “One of the great attributes of our brand has been that, although we’ve struggled in areas, we didn’t let the product suffer in the process,” he explains. “That’s kept the brand around for such a long time.” With three types of stores—buffet/dine-in, a delivery/carryout operation and an express—the company has also evolved to encompass a range of concepts.
Morrison points out that some of Pizza Inn’s greatest achievements have been its innovations over the years: in specialty pizzas (such as the bacon cheeseburger pizza in the ’90s), the pizza buffet concept (Pizza Inn began buffets in the late ’60s), and the “pizzert,” a pizza-style dessert (introduced in 1986). “We’ve tried to lead the category in innovation by bringing new, unique and interesting flavors,” says Morrison. “In a buffet setting, we give customers the ability to sample those products and find new reasons to come and try us.”