Scott Matthew knows there’s nothing like a hot pizza delivered to your door on a January night.
One such night last year, when an hour seemed too long to wait, he went to bed hungry, but woke up inspired.
“If you bake the pizzas in vans on the way to you, it would be so neat. You could probably get it there in 20 minutes,” Matthew said.
He jotted down the idea on a Post-it note and incorporated two weeks later. Now his employees roam this central Wisconsin city of 42,000 in a pair of Super Fast Pizza vans, cooking pizzas in mobile kitchens and delivering them — with the cheese still bubbling when they reach people’s doors — in about 15 minutes.
“Most of the time, pizza is cool and soggy when it’s delivered, especially in northern climates,” said Dave Ostrander, a pizza business consultant whose Big Dave’s pizzeria was once ranked among the busiest in the nation. “I think this solves a huge problem.”
The company uses Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, high-roofed vehicles used as ambulances in Europe that cost about $32,000. For another $65,000 they were outfitted with coolers, five small pizza ovens and touch-screen monitors connected to an Internet-based ordering system staffed by a call center in Nebraska.
Ten types of thin crust pizza such as pepperoni and bacon cheeseburger are made off-site according to Super Fast’s specifications and kept cool in refrigerators for a maximum of four days. The pizzas cook in seven to 11 minutes in 600-degree Fahrenheit ovens. That is hotter than average, but workable with the right ingredients and care, said Ostrander.
The results are a cross between a supermarket-bought frozen pizza, a delivery from a chain like Domino’s and eating at a pizzeria where the pie comes straight from the oven. They’re not for fussy pizza connoisseurs, but will satisfy a quick craving.
“Our pepperoni tastes like a pepperoni,” Matthew maintained.
One Thursday evening, a ring signifying an order sounded in Super Fast’s warehouse garage at 5:27 p.m. By 5:32 p.m., employee Denise Volkenant had put five pizzas in the ovens, flipped on the timers and was on the road.
Volkenant and the other drivers work alone. Between driving with the window down, putting pizzas in the ovens, and tapping on the computer screen, there isn’t a second to spare. She said it’s up to her when to pull over to put pizzas in the ovens, when to arrange to have another driver take an order and how many pizzas to restock in the cooler when supplies get low.
Enough are needed to keep cooking on the road, but “you don’t want to stack too many on top of each other that they mush,” she said.
At 5:42 p.m., Volkenant bolted out of the truck and up the steps to the home of Kathy Elliott, 39, with five hot pizzas — two cheese, a pepperoni, a sausage, and a pepperoni and sausage — in a carrying case.
“It’s at least 15 minutes faster” than Domino’s Pizza, said Elliott, shelling out $31.45. “Within five or six minutes, we usually see them right around our house and they’re cooking the food. Maximum 15 minutes, they’re at the door with the pizza.”
“The pizzas taste great and the service is excellent,” said repeat customer Matt Zitlow, whose wife and three children started to bustle when Super Fast showed up. “Where else can you get hot pizzas 15 minutes after you call?”
But Super Fast hasn’t hurt business at Mancino’s Pizza & Grinders, said Barbara Weaver, owner of the Fond du Lac eatery. Customers like her pizza crust, made from scratch every day, she said.
“That’s not just freezer bread somebody sent in and you raised it and put it in the oven,” Weaver said.
She doesn’t think much of Super Fast: “Who’s saying their pizza is any good?” she said.
Since starting in September, Matthew said sales have been on a roll while the company smoothed out some bumps.
Rooftop antennas helped alleviate the trucks’ frequent loss of their Internet connection and latches on the oven doors stopped the pies from sliding out when the driver turns a corner.
The computer server, which farms out orders based on each truck’s location and stage in the cooking process, still makes mistakes sometimes. Plans are in the works to update the software.
“By the time we’ve done it in two or three cities like Fond du Lac, we’ll have learned most of the tricks,” Matthew said.
Super Fast has been contacted by interested businesspeople from as far away as Britain, Botswana and the Philippines who saw the idea on an online magazine for entrepreneurs, Matthew said.
British businessman David Roberts, who’s been in the pizza business for 12 years, said he sent Matthew an e-mail, and is kicking himself for not thinking of the idea first. The mobile kitchen could be a big hit at outdoor fairs and exhibitions, Roberts said.
“I think a lot of people will be jumping on the bandwagon,” he said.
Matthew said franchising is one possibility for expanding the business. He could also take on other investors to expand it himself or look into a licensing arrangement.
“We’ve had lots and lots of nibbles,” Matthew said. “At some point we’ll be bringing more people on board.”