Pizzerias around UCF constantly vie to become the top dining choice for students. Business competition is fierce, and although patrons don’t actively think about it, these restaurants are businesses that need to make a living. Students’ spending habits determine which restaurant is packed every night until 3 a.m. and determine which restaurants have to close their doors for good.
“Lazy Moon is something that students tell everyone about when they first come here, so it becomes a tourist attraction,” said Logan Ayala, a sophomore theater major.
Lazy Moon Pizza on University Boulevard is a popular meal stop for many hungry Knights. This is evident in its sales.
“On average, we’re between 5,000 to 6,000 orders a week,” said Rachael Gregory, Lazy Moon’s manager of marketing and community relations.
Students promote Lazy Moon by following it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This allows Lazy Moon to have a more organic approach to its advertising, which appeals to the younger, social media-savvy generation.
It’s no wonder Lazy Moon knows how to market to college students — the restaurant was started in December 2004 by Tim Brown and Matt Griffis, two pizza-loving graduates from Florida State University. They decided that UCF didn’t have anything like Lazy Moon, opened up their restaurant and have been urging UCF students to “eat, drink and be lazy,” ever since.
“We’ve been lucky enough to not have to set aside a crazy marketing budget to keep people walking through our door,” Gregory said. “We’re thankful for that.”
Lazy Moon isn’t everyone’s favorite, however.
“I go most often to Topp N’ Pie,” said Jesse Ramos, a junior cinema studies major. “They’ve been described as the ‘Subway of pizza,’ and they have a good lunch deal.”
The deal that Ramos is referring to is a now-expired $3.99 price for an 11-inch pizza with unlimited toppings with the purchase of a drink. Restaurants such as Topp N’ Pie in Waterford Lakes and Blaze Pizza beneath the Plaza on University apartment complex are some of the first to offer unlimited toppings on a personal-sized pizza at no extra charge. Their innovation is attractive to people who crave more than plain cheese but don’t crave paying extra to add onions to a slice.
How well has that been working for these restaurants?
“[Blaze] sells on average 500 pizzas in a day,” said Laurie Ruggles, an operating partner with MRG Pizza, the parent company of Blaze Pizza.
That’s around 3,500 pizzas a week, as opposed to Lazy Moon’s 5,000 to 6,000. Blaze has only been around since September of last year, however, and it has been becoming more and more well-known.
“Sales have continued to grow as people in the area find out about Blaze,” Ruggles said.
Topp N’ Pie declined to share its sales numbers.
The company was formed in Irvine, California, in 2012 by Rick and Elise Wetzel, owners of the already-successful California chain restaurant Wetzel’s Pretzels. The two were inspired by Chipotle’s made-to-order model and wanted to bring that customizability to pizza. Thus, “fast-fire’d pizza in 180 seconds or less,” was born. The question now is when a pizza-pretzel hybrid will available in stores for hangover lunches everywhere.
Another restaurant that prides itself on producing individualized pizzas is Pie Five Pizza Co., located at the corner of University Boulevard and Rouse Road.
“[Pie Five] sells over 800 pizzas a week. That’s over 800 of our customizable pizzas that allow each customer to select what’s right for them,” said Jami Zimmerman, director of corporate communications for Pie Five Pizza.
Pie Five opened its first restaurant in June 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas, with the goal of pioneering a fast-casual pizza brand that offers customers personalization without sacrificing quality and speed.
UCF’s Pie Five location isn’t selling as much as Blaze or Lazy Moon, though. This discrepancy could possibly be related to Pie Five’s distance from the school, compared with the others’ close proximity to on-campus housing and many student-focused apartment complexes.
Pie Five continues to try and connect with students, however, and has found success through more unconventional marketing means.
“We host fundraisers, sponsor giveaways and sweepstakes, feed student housing and have a strong social media presence,” Zimmerman said.
The concept of entirely customizable pizza is especially appealing to those who cannot enjoy traditional pizza, Zimmerman said.
“We know many pizza lovers have to adhere to dietary restrictions, so Pie Five has a variety of gluten-free, calorie-conscious, vegan and vegetarian options to fit every diet and lifestyle,” he said. “At Pie Five, you can do what you wanna do — choose what you wanna chew.”
Big slices are a novelty, and unlimited toppings save spare change, but there is always a demand for conventional Italian-style pizza by the slice or in bulk. For this, Proccolino’s Ristorante and Pizzeria is a common go-to location.
Rema Chehab, the owner of Proccolino’s, is proud of the standards the restaurant holds itself to. She said the restaurant sells about 1,050 orders per week. Being a small restaurant gives the franchise the ability to buy fresh components to make its pizzas.
“We really stand behind all of our ingredients,” Chehab said.
She said the high quality of their ingredients makes for a better slice of pizza, which has kept customers coming back for the “authentic New York flavor” since its opening in 1983.
Flippers Pizzeria, on the corner of Alafaya Trail and Corporate Boulevard, has a similar mantra.
“Our secret to success centers on using the finest ingredients to make our hand-crafted brick oven pizza,” said Andrea Rodriguez, a sales and marketing representative for Flippers. “Unbleached, unbromated flour, extra virgin olive oil, fresh-cut spices, fresh-packed tomatoes, and whole milk Wisconsin mozzarella are just a few examples of our commitment to quality.”
The first Flippers location was opened in Central Florida in 1987 by Scott Kousaie and Todd Dennis, “two friends with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for America’s favorite food,” Rodriguez said.
The company declined to provide sales data for the UCF location but did say that it focuses on partnering with local schools, organizations and charities in order to give back to the community.
The phrase “Pizza. Passion. Perfection.” represents Flippers as a brand that has been serving customers for 25 years.
The problem of having too many options in terms of what pizza to eat for dinner is an unlikely yet prevalent one for many UCF students. These restaurants wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for students’ business, however, so clearly they are eating enough pizza to keep a bread and cheese-based economy afloat.
Pizza is pizza, regardless of any nuances of size, toppings or crust. The places that undergrads and grads patronize now will determine which ones are still around for the cheese-loving Knights 20 years from now. But the undeniable, comforting fact is, because of an insatiable craving for cheesy, saucy, hot bread triangles at the end of a long week, some form of pizza will always be around UCF.
Editor's note: Flipper’s Pizzeria and Topp N’ Pie declined to share their sales.
Anna Johnson is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.