If Zac Dokouzian could do it all over again, his first move would be to take his pies on the road. That’s what he learned when he spent about eight months running High Stakes Pizza in a shared food-hall kitchen in Mesa, Arizona.

“It’s a lot cheaper to start with a mobile pizza business,” Dokouzian said. “The part that got me—and the reason I didn’t go that direction in the first place—was that I was thinking, OK, if I do that, I’ll need a food truck and that’s going to cost me $50,000. In retrospect, I was for sure going to spend that much money on marketing just to get people in the door—and there are a lot of other ways to do a mobile food business than with a food truck.”

At the end of January 2024, Dokouzian quietly closed his DELCO operation and changed High Stakes Pizza to a mobile operation, mostly working farmers markets in the Phoenix area. His business model is unique: To prepare for the events, he now cooks pies in the same shared kitchen in which he once operated his DELCO business. At the markets, he heats up the slices to order under his 10×10 canopy tent. He can run the business himself and with maybe one other friend if he anticipates a busy day.

Related: Stop Giving Away Pizza, Says One Pop-Up Pro (Webinar)

Zac Dokouzian is owner and operator at High Stakes Pizza in Mesa, Arizona.

There’s also the matter of paying for the shared kitchen, but Dokouzian has been able to trim down the hours and storage he was once using for the full-fledged food-hall operation. He also massively cut down the hours he’s working each week, even if the current setup requires taking on some side work in order to make ends meet.

If there are some questions as to whether or not he can parlay the pop-ups into a full-time job, Dokouzian feels confident that he made the right decision in ditching the shared-kitchen model for his mobile pizza business.

“Getting free time back has been super nice,” Dokouzian said. “Even during a full week, the events probably take up about 30 hours, so it’s more like a regular job. There’s a lot of stuff up in the air—like, can I really make this work? Do I take a whole year and try to save up a bunch of money and really do it right? But this just feels a lot more manageable working this amount. It was getting really hard to go in six days a week for 10-14 hours a day and really not feel like you’re making progress.”

Forno Moto/Mission Pizza Napoletana
The more traditional route, it should be said, is the one Dokouzian didn’t take: Many start a mobile pizza business prior to converting to a brick-and-mortar store, rather than the other way around. One operator who followed that model is Peyton Smith, owner and operator of Mission Pizza Napoletana in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a perennial fixture on 50 Top Pizza. In fall 2008, using capital he’d raised from business partners, Smith was prepared to open his first-ever pizzeria after spending years in pharmaceutical sales. When the bottom fell out of the economy, he pivoted, feeling like it would be irresponsible to open in a business with other people’s money in an uncertain economy.

For Smith, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He bought a mobile pizza oven from Fire Within in 2010, affixed it to a trailer on the back of a truck, and got to find out if he really liked making pizza for a living without spending a whole lot of money.

Forno Moto, as he called his mobile-pizza business, was a hit in Winston-Salem. He spent four years working parties and other events and making a living, with very little overhead, before opening his brick-and-mortar store. Those several years as a mobile pizza maker allowed him to build up more cash and open a restaurant. It also served as invaluable marketing for his eventual restaurant: Prior to opening Mission Pizza Napoletana, the city of Winston-Salem already knew Smith and just how good his pizza was.

Pizza Luca
Other operators start a mobile pizza business and see no reason to ever switch to a brick-and-mortar. Dean Medico, owner and operator of Pizza Luca, is a great example. Based in Greenwich, Connecticut, Medico started his business around the same time as Smith: in 2011, back before pizza trucks were commonplace. Medico grew the business from just one pizza truck into a fleet of six.

Medico has never really entertained the thought of opening a brick-and-mortar pizza place. He likes the fact that a mobile-pizza business gets to travel to where the customers are rather than the other way around.

“I have a saying that I heard from somebody: You have to fish where the fish are,” Medico said. “For me, mobile was that. We started getting catering requests after we did some advertising online. From there, it spreads in those communities. For many years, I didn’t even have a salesperson—you just supply the demand and you’re gonna make money.”

Find Yourself
All three of these businesses did it their own way. One began as a brick-and-mortar and switched to mobile. Another did the opposite, while the third has been a successful and growing mobile pizza business for 13 years. What they all have in common, however, is that they were willing to do what the market dictated.

Mobile pizza businesses have become a lot more common since the pandemic. The proliferation of quality portable pizza ovens has made mobile more realistic for a growing number of people. In other words, those looking to start a new mobile pizza business shouldn’t be surprised if their market is more saturated now than it was 10 years ago.

This, of course, means a mobile pizza business needs to find new ways of standing out from the competition. What that might look like for a new operator is anybody’s guess—but Dokouzian, Smith and Medico can all attest to the fact that mobile is a low-risk and high-reward way to test some things out in order to find out what works.

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