Going Proprietary With Pizza

USA Star establishes new program to make its own pies, subs

BELTON, Mo. -- It's admittedly an experiment, but a small Missouri convenience store chain owner is taking on foodservice his own way in a new store and finding benefits and drawbacks to it. Major Petroleum Co., based in Oklahoma City and Belton, Mo., began the testing in January with the opening of its newestUSA Starstore in Oklahoma City. The store includes a proprietary pizza and subs program.

We just wanted to try our own pizza, Harwin Sandhu, general manager of the five-store chain, which uses a franchise pizza program in its other stores, told [image-nocss] CSP Daily News. We also looked at chicken with the grease and all that and we decided to stay away from it.

Dubbed USA Subs & Pizza, the proprietary program has been slow to get off the ground, but Sandhu said he plans to stick it out for a while. While he finds the margins are better than with the Hunt Brothers Pizza franchised program, he said finding the right equipment and marketing the product has been challenging.

I like the Hunt Brothers product because they have the marketing to go with it. That's a challenge for someone to start their own pizza business, Sandhu said. Hunt Brothers now has 3,800 locations nationwide in c-stores so the name is out there [mostly in rural areas. But the Oklahoma City store is in a metropolitan area, where the [Hunt Brothers Pizza] name is not too familiar. So we can do something of our own.

Other hurdles to starting his own program included sourcing ingredients and developing training for employees. That's the nice thing about the Hunt Brothers. Every cashier, any position can run that system because it's already premade; all you do is add toppings. It's very simple, he said, comparing the programs. As far as getting into subs, it is a challenge because we had to have a designated area away from the register.

Meanwhile, Sandhu said the family-owned-and-operated chain, which also operates stores under the Lakeside and Quik Break banners through Harwin's brother Jessie, would like to grow some more. We're looking at a couple of opportunities out there to purchase, but I would say most likely ground-up, he said while acknowledging the challenges to doing that. Kansas City and Oklahoma are good markets [for c-stores], but there's a big competitor up here in QuikTrip, which is on about every corner. So the growth could be limited.