Drew French currently serves as Founder and President at Your Pie. In this role, he leads a growing brand with its mission to be a globally admired brand by creating a culture that improves the Your Pie family. He is passionate about working as part of a team to improve the communities that Your Pie serves. In addition, he serves on the board of non-profits Athensmade and Extra Special People. Drew graduated from the Terry College of Business in 2005 with a degree in marketing and currently lives in Athens, GA with his wife Natalie, their two daughters Anna and Scarlett, and their 3 dogs.
Shantel: Hey, Drew. Welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.
Drew: Thanks for having me.
Shantel: Yeah. We're excited to learn more about Your Pie and I'm sure we'll leave this conversation hungry.
Drew: Hopefully hungry and inspired to go run to a Your Pie. That's the plan.
Shantel: Absolutely. Well, I would love to kick things off with talking about your passion for pizza and how did that evolve? Can you give us a little bit of a back story of your journey to starting this concept?
| FOOD + FAMILY FIRST |
Drew: Sure. Yeah. It's a long one in terms of I've always loved to eat. Pizza kind of was a process. Growing up I think everyone has had this challenge in the past of having that argument over do I want a cheese pizza or pepperoni pizza or some combination. That's pretty much what you settle with is the cheese or pepperoni pizza. So growing up I always wanted more on my pizza. At that time I wasn't thinking, "I'm going to open up a pizza restaurant so I can get exactly what I want." Overtime I just fell in love with the industry, the restaurant industry, and fell in love with specifically the fast, casual model within the restaurant industry. Another thing happened that was paramount to me falling in love with pizza, I married my high school sweetheart Natalie. We went to visit her great aunts and uncles in Italy where they're from and on to the coast of Naples called Ischia. That's really where I fell in love with the Italian culture and a big part of the Italian culture in that area of the country is incredible brick oven pizza. So that's really one of the key moments in the decision to move forward with Your Pie and really building Your Pie as really a brand around that idea of that food first and that family mentality that I learned when I was over on my honeymoon with Natalie.
Shantel: Well, have you been back to Italy since that honeymoon?
Drew: Yeah. We've been twice since then. I'd love to go every year, but it's a challenge to get there every year.
Shantel: Yeah. A little background, you have two daughters and three dogs, right?
Drew: That's right.
Shantel: Maybe a little tough.
Drew: The oldest daughter, Anna's been to Italy. We took her there. We have to get my youngest daughter Scarlet there as soon as we can.
Shantel: That's great. Well, did you come from a food and beverage background and studied that in school, hospitality in school?
Drew: No. I didn't. My background growing up was not ... I didn't grow up in a family of restaurateurs or people in the food and beverage industry. I did have entrepreneurs on both sides of my family. My grandparents on both sides were entrepreneurs and my parents were entrepreneurs. They started a business. So I got to see kind of small business from the front lines. I got to see the pros and the cons I think of owning a small business. I also got to see people take a risk. That was kind of paramount in my decision to start a business and how I got into the restaurant industry was, again, just working. Growing up I sort of fell into that space in terms of just really enjoying it, really liking to serve people, liking to work as a team to get as many people through the line with a great product as fast as possible. That was a huge rush for me. That's really what led me to developing and opening up Your Pie.
Shantel: That's amazing. Rewinding quite a few steps, but do you remember kind of the first ... Well, how did you figure out the first restaurant location? Were you learning all those things or did you have a lot of mentors in this space helping and guiding you of starting a restaurant concept?
Drew: I've obviously had a lot of help over the years in different areas. In terms of finding that first location, we really decided on Athens, Georgia as a spot we wanted to be in. Natalie and I felt we both could live out our dreams and goals in Athens, Georgia. So we chose Athens first and then from there I was lucky enough to work with a local real estate company. Megan actually at the time was one of my sister's best friends and still is, but she helped me find the location a little bit faster than I was expecting. Then she now is one of our longest tenured team members at Your Pie. She'll be going on 10 years with the company. She kind of moved from the real estate side into our corporate office to help us in a bunch of different areas. Certainly had a lot of help over the years. If I thought I could do everything myself, then we'd probably still be at the one location if that. So I've certainly have needed help along the years.
Shantel: I think there's so much value in surrounding yourself with a great network and people who know more than what you know and not trying to figure it all out on your own.
Shantel: So imagine the typical day for you has changed quite a bit in the last 10 or so years. What does a day look like for you now?
| PREPPING PIZZAS TO CONFERENCE CALLS |
Drew: Yeah, you're right. When I opened the first store, it was literally 16 to 20 hours in a restaurant and doing everything from putting the food out, prepping the food to mopping the last floor. So my day has changed in terms of physical aspects maybe, but at the end of the day I'm still solely focused on making sure that the customers being serviced to the best of our ability and we do that by making sure that the team members are set up for success and that they are in a cultured environment that they can be successful and serve the customer the way that they need to be served. I'm not literally talking to every customer and making every pizza anymore, but the same principles that I was doing in the first store, I hope I'm getting others to believe like I am and do it the same way as we grow and expand. I have a lot more conference calls and things like that than I ever imagined I'd have when I opened up the first location. But at the end of the day, I'm trying to create a process that makes things easier for our team or makes things easier for our customer to do business with us.
Shantel: Mm-hmm. Well, speaking of the conference calls and still keeping the passion of why you originally started, do you find yourself sometimes there are days that you're not doing all the things you used to love? Are you excited to now be on the opposite side and being a little bit more ... Definitely being more strategic and kind of overseeing everything, or do you miss the grind of being in the locations and opening up the new concepts like before?
Drew: Well the cool thing about the restaurant industry, at least for us, we're open seven days a week. So I can work as much as I want to. There's never a day where I am saying, "Ah. I'm looking for something to do." But to your earlier point maybe is I have over the years. The reason that Megan was the first hire was she took over the books for me because that's not something I was super passionate about. So as we've grown, I've tried to get more focused on the things I feel I'm best suited to help the team out, help the company grow with, and we've tried to hire experts to do things that I don't want to do. Not necessarily want to do, but I'm not as well suited to do. So yeah, I mean, my day to day has changed, but I still have the luxury and the ability to do what I love and that's what keeps me going every day.
Shantel: I love that. How big is your team?
Drew: We have 30 or so people on the franchise support side that are every day getting up, trying to figure out ways to support our franchise so they can support the team so they can provide a great pizza and experience for our customers. But then in the stores we have about 650 team members.
Shantel: Oh. Natalie, she's your business partner and actively involved in the company, right?
Drew: She is. That's evolved over time. From day one, she's always been paramount to the brand and helping me with my decision-making process as it relates to brand and where it's going. That's one of her strong suits. We've over time ... We intentionally, in the beginning, tried to not work together as much, but over time we've started to work more and more together on a day to day basis.
Shantel: That's probably pretty nice to have someone that you trust and love and they have that same interest in the company as you do kind of on the team.
Drew: Yeah. It's great
Shantel: Would love to kind of dig deep into maybe a big challenge that comes to mind that over the years you reflect on and maybe have helped shape some new process or systems. Does one big challenge come to mind that maybe made you kind of question like, "Why am I doing this?" But then looking back was a good learning opportunity?
| STAY RELEVANT & LEAD THE CHARGE |
Drew: Yeah. Every year you have different challenges, different opportunities that you think growth is going to make that challenge or opportunity easier or different, but what you find out is that everybody is trying to get better and if we don't get better every day, then we're just going to not be successful over the long term. So when you think you've got something figured out and industry changes, the advent of ... Not the advent of technology but the rate at which technology is changing business, not just for us but across all mediums has drastically, I think, sped up the process of needing to stay relevant and stay current and create processes and things that add value to your customers or your team. Yeah. As we've grown, we've been lucky to have been able to bring in great people and give us the ability to work on a project or spend time on research and development to make sure that we are not just maintaining relevancy in this space but being leaders in this space. That's our goal is to not just stay relevant, we want to lead the charge.
Shantel: I love that. I love how you talked about the different stages too. That certainly resonates with me and where we're out in the company of there are certainly challenges every day. There are highs and the lows. I was talking to someone at lunch and they mentioned that there's a book and it just talks about how you attach yourself instead of the emotion of the challenge and just to like the excitement of getting through it because it's just a part of business and it's inevitable. You'll always have them. Which is just an interesting prospective because sometimes it can be really easy, at least for me, to get bummed if we ... The new hirer that we were hoping to get accepted another job or a client leaves. It's just part of owning a business.
Drew: It is. What I've found too is that you think times are at a point where, "Oh, man. This should've happened or that should've happened." But sometimes it's a blessing. Sometimes when you don't get that opportunity, it allows you to spend more time focused on something you should've been focused on anyway. So I've always tried to take that mentality of, "Hey, if something doesn't work out the way you think it should or would, it sometimes is a blessing in disguise that you were able to divert energy another way that ended up being a much better thing over the long term."
Shantel: That is a good point. Speaking of energy and kind of compartmentalizing, do you struggle with not bringing work home? How have you and Natalie navigated that both being really involved in the business?
Drew: We're still working on that one. We have to be intentional about not talking about work and not talking about Your Pie because it is so entrenched in our family life. It's kind of been part of who we are for going on 12 years. If you take into account the time to get the first door open. So we have to be intentional about if we need to say time out and talk about other things. But you find that a lot of your conversations are driven by where we're at with Your Pie and where we want it to go, which is good. We love that about that that we can have that, but at the same time, we have to be intentional about turning that off. For instance, last weekend we went on a long weekend with just us and tried not to work or talk about work. It frees your mind to be able to think of other things and do other things.
Shantel: Yeah. It definitely that was difficult to turn off. Where you get a late email and sometimes you can't turn those things off and they do need to responded to, which is difficult in balancing. I imagine then you've become really efficient in your day to day and carving out the time and bandwidth. But do you have tools or how do you optimize your day?
| BE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR TIME |
Drew: Well, every time I think I have a perfectly planned out day, something happens where it totally sidetracks you. I do try and be very diligent and not having my phone in a meeting or not having my mind in another place when I'm trying to be intentional with the person or the team I'm in front of. So I do take seriously my calendar. If I have committed a set of time for a certain task, I try and be in that moment. A lot of times you're constantly thinking about what's next or where else happens or if your phone starts to buzz, you're thinking about what else could be happening. But I think it's important for yourself to maintain that discipline to stay in the moment and I think that for me frustrates some people because I sometimes have 200 emails that I haven't answered because I've been in a two-hour meeting. But I think it's important to, for me at least, stay focused on what you had planned out within the day.
Shantel: I think that just also shows the leadership that you have. You are fully present and I imagine the team really respects that and looks up to you in that way.
Drew: Well, they would probably tell you that I'm always 15 minutes late and that I am always saying I got to go to another meeting or something. But I hope they would agree with you on that.
Shantel: Yeah. No, I'm sure that they would. The research and development piece that you mentioned earlier about being leaders in this space I think is really interesting. I say that because I think at least as a small business in the stage that I'm personally at it's really easy to get caught in the weaves of things and get pulled in a ton of directions. Do you intentionally carve out the time to just sit and think about big picture and the future of the company, or do you have a team helping you do that? What does the research and development look like?
Drew: Yeah. There's a combination. Grant here, one of his titles ... We all wear many hats. Is on the R and D within the kitchen with making sure our food is always getting better. Our goal with our food is to always get same or better products at same or better price. So we're always trying to invest back into our food. So even if we can get a product much cheaper now, that may give us an opportunity to go get a better product at the same price we're paying now. Make the quality better for our customers. But still maintain a profit margin that makes sense for our unit economics. So we do have I would say that Grant carves out time intentionally on R and D. On the opts and marking side, we use company stores to help us push ideas through and get business case studies to make sure that ideas make sense at the unit level. Then we have a franchise advisory board we bounce ideas off as well and get ideas from. That's one of the things I love about being a franchise is our franchisees and our team members of those franchisees a lot of times have the best ideas because they're the ones that are closest to our customers. So we try and create an environment where we're open to ideas where we listen to and we're always trying to push the industry forward. So yeah, it's a big part of what we do. Innovation is one of our core values, and we're always trying to move the needle and improve processes for three things are food, our team member, and our customer.
Shantel: Yeah. On the franchisee side, I imagine they're wonderful but you're essentially dealing with many entrepreneurs. Do you ever find yourself stuck? They have those great, innovative idea but it doesn't necessarily compliment the brand very well, or is veering in a different direction of where you see the company long term and have to have those tough conversations.
Drew: It happens. But as long as we're ... A lot of times what happens is an idea will come to us and we'll say, "Oh, well we tried that seven years ago and this was the result." Good, bad or otherwise. I think every year we have the great chicken wing debate. Why don't we have chicken wings? Well, we don't want to bring in fryers. We want to have a more fresh, forward brand. So yeah, that's going to happen because we are, like you said, we are bringing in people with different perspectives that have maybe come from different lines of work than in the restaurant space. But that's what makes us better, faster. So they'll come to us and say, "Hey. In other life, I had this widget or this process," and we're like, "Wow. That's incredible. Let's test that out in our model, and let's see if it works. Then when it does, let's implement it across the brand. So that's what I love though about the model and that's why we are open to those conversations.
Shantel: Mm-hmm. Oh yeah, that's a good ... Essentially they're your network of entrepreneur friends that are helping and leading and guiding as well, so that's great. On the industry side, I mean with Uber Eats and the fast-casual concept, how do you want to anticipate kind of staying relevant? But where do you see the industry shifting?
Drew: Well, I think food not just food but I think in general people want things now. So speed of service. As long as you got a create value for your customers too. So just because I can get somebody a pizza in 10 seconds is that going to be a custom brick oven, fresh out of the oven pizza? No. So you got to balance who you want to be within any space and be the best at it. So there are some things, you mentioned Uber Eats technology, other things that are creating a different avenue for us to reach certain customers. We just want make sure that we are relevant in the places that customers want to do business with us, but if we're not going to create a great product and great experience coupled with that, then we don't want to be there. So we got to make sure it fits for who we are as a brand and that we want to be the best pizza in the world with the best experience. Sometimes that means we got to turn down something because we're not going to be selling the brand the right way. But yeah, it's definitely I think what ... Long story short, people want things now faster than ever. Whether that's food or ideas or ad in social media, things like that. People want their information immediately. They want their products immediately. We just got to make sure that we're not getting left behind and that we are providing things to the needs of our customers.
Shantel: I think you touched on just what I love is the staying true to your brand and that you're creating an authentic environment that people do feel connected with and even if it's not as fast as the competitor down the street, it's still an experience that they're going to connect to over something faster or cheaper or something else, which I think is important to keep in mind and I imagine tough and especially in our field in the social media space, it's really easy to compare and always be comparing, I guess is the word that comes to mind. So that's a great point. What's the most valuable piece of advice you've received?
| "DO WHAT YOU LOVE & IT DOESN'T FEEL LIKE WORK" |
Drew : Most valuable piece of advice. Now you're getting into the tough ones. I think that it's cliché but everyone says do what you love and it doesn't feel like work. There are definitely days where I can't believe that I'm doing what I'm doing and that I literally get to do what I love. Just making sure I still have that feeling is kind of the trick and the goal. I don't ever want to get to a point where I'm not passionate about what I'm doing because that translates to the whole company. If everybody on the team is just kind of lethargic and isn't enjoying what they're doing or what we're doing, then we've kind of lost sight of truly why we get up every day and try to add value to this world. So I think that not just for me but for anybody I think loving what you do is important because you've only got so many hours in the day and so many years on this world. So just try and be passionate about it.
Shantel: I love that. Drew, I just have a couple more quick questions for you and the next is what is next on the horizon? Are there any big goals that you guys are working towards as a team?
Drew: Yeah, we're working on Your Pie 4.0. You mentioned that you got to stay true to the brand. We have always tried to stay true to the original core brand, but we've also know that we've had to evolve over time. So the first Your Pie, which will be 10 in April and what our new model, our new stores, both operationally and look and feel are kind of completely different things. So we are always trying to, like I said, innovate and make sure that we're giving the customers and the team what they need and what they want to be successful over the long term. So we're working on 4.0 right now. We are excited to launch some of that in the next few stores that open up. Some of those elements and really hone on what that means and really it's encompassing some of the new technology that's out in market to make sure our team is got the tools they need and then also from a consumer standpoint that we have technology that they want to use to do business with us. The other piece is just operationally how we can better serve our guests and create a better product. So that's exciting for Your Pie is getting that out there. I think you asked me something else besides next on the horizon.
Shantel: Yeah. Well the goals. I think that ... Imagine would align.
Drew: Yeah. So just as a company, we know that the local store, the individual store, their success is what allows us to be successful as a whole. So we're really focused on the unit level as a support team and what that means to each store might be a little different. We try and work with each franchisee about what's important to them and what needs they have and how we can support them. At the end of the day, each store has to be successful and each store has to be leaders in the community and proven the communities that they're in. So as a company, we really like focused in on that. A lot of the things we talk about day in and day out are direct results of how do we make those individual stores better. So that's the goal as a company that we're all working towards.
Shantel: Great. Well, I can't wait to check out Your Pie 4.0 and how that goes. Last, Drew, how can people get in touch with you or the team if they're interested in learning more about Your Pie and/or your journey?
Drew: Sure. YourPie.com is a great place to start. We're also on Instagram @YourPiePizza. We're on Facebook just backslash Your Pie. But if you want to get in touch with me, you can find me all over the internet. If you need to or come to Athens and hang out. We're always hanging out.
Shantel: Great. Well, thank you so much for being a guest and dedicating some time to chat with us. We really appreciate it.
Drew: Great. Thank you.