Editor's note: Last week, Jason Walker with Patch explored the food at Solos Pizza Cafe. This week, Jason chats with one of the Solos Pizza Cafe owners Brian Banick about his restaurant background and the establishment.
Patch: How did you get into the restaurant business?
Brian Banick: Bruce Thomson, who is the founder of Solos, he had a friend who had a take-and-bake business. We liked the product and went to take-and-bake from there. He had a company called Leonardo’s Take & Bake Pizza, a full restaurant, but we made a higher-end take-and-bake product, and what we wanted to do was take that higher-end product and bring it all the way through the process. What you miss with take-and-bake is that you don’t have the control of baking. Sometimes, people cook differently, and we thought we could really provide a ‘wow’ product if we could control that portion of it, too.
At the time, the fast-casual concept was really starting to rise as well. Fast casual, in the industry, is better-quality food served quickly. So what we wanted to do was come up with a way to do that with pizza. We didn’t feel like that was being met. So we started with 10-inch pizzas, individual size, and then we figured out a way to bake them in two minutes and 35 seconds.
Patch: Is there a special oven, then?
Brian Banick: It’s actually an oven technology that’s available with one company. We tested convection and deck ovens. We ran hundreds of pizzas through this oven to test it, to make sure the product was consistent, that the bake time was consistent, that everything was done, and looked great. Our dough recipe took us 42 different batches of dough to get it just perfect so that it reacted just the right way.
Patch: How long has Solos been open?
Brian Banick: The Maple Grove store opened in 2007, then we opened one down the road in Plymouth in June 2008 and then Eagan in 2010. The concept we developed ourselves.
Patch: What does Solos mean to the community?
Brian Banick: We try to do a lot with the local schools, that’s our biggest contribution. We do store tours with the kids. They come on the bus with their class, which means about 15-20 kids. We split them up and they get to go either to the back of the store, where the coolers and preparation is done, or the front of the house, where they get to see where we make the pizza. It’s educational, and they love it. They get to bake their own pizza and we give them a T-shirt. Also, they get a workbook as part of a special program with the schools to map a pizza shop, and the tour is a reward. It’s part of the curriculum. So far, every school we’ve signed up has renewed. Our staff loves it. We get asked for donations all the time, and we really wanted to make a difference.
Patch: Do you have any future plans for Solos?
Brian Banick: We recently added baked pasta to the menu. And we want to expand to a fourth location. The new one will be in the Maple Grove/Plymouth area. Keep it close to where people know who we are. We’re locally owned. People ask us all the time if this is a chain, but really it’s just three guys in Minnesota - me, Bruce Thomson and Korosh DelNawaz.