WWNO News Features
10:58 pm
Sat December 5, 2009

Naked Pizza to go national

New Orleans, LA – Naked Pizza, A New Orleans business is set to go national. Eric Eagan has the story.

NEW ORLEANS HAS MADE ITS SHARE OF MAGAZINE COVERS SINCE HURRICANE KATRINA, BUT THE MOST INTERESTING MAY BE THE AUGUST 2009 COVER OF ENTREPRENEUR MAGAZINE. IN THE ACCOMPANYING ARTICLE, NEW ORLEANS WAS CALLED "A HIVE OF ENTREPRENEURIAL INITIATIVE" AND A "MECCA" FOR STARTUPS. SURPRISING FOR A CITY WHOSE ECONOMY STILL RELIES HEAVILY ON TOURISM AND INDUSTRY.

BUT TIM WILLIAMSON ISN'T SURPRISED. HE RUNS THE IDEA VILLAGE, A NON-PROFIT THAT ASSISTS STARTUPS HERE. HE SAYS POST-KATRINA NEW ORLEANS IS POISED TO BECOME A CENTER OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP. THE STORM SET THE STAGE: IT TURNED GLOBAL ATTENTION TO NEW ORLEANS, EXPOSED PROBLEMS NEEDING CREATIVE SOLUTIONS, AND BROUGHT NEW TALENT TO THE CITY.


WILLIAMSON/AX: "What we have is the perfect recipe for a center of innovation and entrepreneurship. We have a global network. We have a laboratory of experimentation, and we have a new base of talent." (:13)


OUT OF THIS LABORATORY HAVE COME A NUMBER OF SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENTS. THE MOST RECENT BEING NAKEDPIZZA, A HEALTHY PIZZA RESTAURANT FOUNDED IN 2006. THE BUSINESS SECURED SOME DEEP-POCKETED INVESTORS THIS YEAR, NAMELY DALLAS MAVERICKS OWNER MARK CUBAN AND NEW ENGLAND PATRIOT'S OWNER ROBERT KRAFT. ITS PRINCIPLES PLAN TO AWARD HUNDREDS OF FRANCHISE DEALS BY DECEMBER AND EXPECT TO OPEN ABOUT 50 LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT NORTH AMERICA BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR. NOT BAD FOR A BUSINESS THAT STARTED IN A FLOODED-OUT BUILDING ON CLAIBORNE AVENUE. IT WAS AN UNLIKELY STORY FROM THE BEGINNING, SAYS CO-FOUNDER JEFF LEACH.

LEACH/AX: "My partner Randy Crochet, his background is real estate development. Mine is evolutionary anthropology, and so when you marry those two together, what do those individuals do? Well, they open a pizza place." (:11)


LEACH IS A TEXAN WHO FELL IN LOVE WITH NEW ORLEANS AND MOVED HERE AFTER KATRINA WITH ENTREPRENEURIAL AMBITIONS. HE LINKED UP WITH CROCHET AND THE TWO STARTED BRAINSTORMING RESTAURANT IDEAS. THEY SETTLED ON PIZZA BECAUSE IT WAS EASY TO REPLICATE, AND ARRIVED AT A RECIPE LEACH SAYS OFFERS AN ALTERNATIVE TO PAPA JOHN'S AND DOMINOES.

LEACH/AX: 'Whats wrong with the modern delivery pizza is that it's a highly processed carbohydrate. It's a donut with tomato sauce." (:06)


INSTEAD OF REFINED FLOUR AND WHOLE MILK CHEESE, NAKEDPIZZAS ARE MADE WITH A 12-GRAIN CRUST, SKIM MILK CHEESE, AND PROBIOTICS TO AID DIGESTION. LEACH SAYS ONE OF HIS EARLY MISTAKES WAS ASSIGNING HIS WHOLESOME PRODUCT A CLUNKY NAME: WORLD'S HEALTHIEST PIZZA.


LEACH/AX: "Randy and I were so focused on the science and the nutrition in what we were doing, we completely ignored traditional trajectories with which - how you should do things." (:11)


SO THEY CONTACTED THE IDEA VILLAGE, AND A LOCAL BRANDING CONSULTANT SUGGESTED A NAME CHANGE. LEACH AND CROCHET CAME UP WITH NAKEDPIZZA, WHICH REFLECTS THEIR BACK-TO-BASICS APPROACH TO NUTRITION. THE CONCEPT IMPRESSED CUBAN AND KRAFT, WHOSE CAPITAL ALLOWED THE BUSINESS TO EXPAND. THE QUESTION NOW IS, WHO'S NEXT? WILL THIS SUCCESS BECOME COMMONPLACE IN NEW ORLEANS? JIM LOGAN IS THE DEAN OF THE BUSINESS SCHOOL AT UNO. HE SAYS TO FOSTER ENTREPRENEURSHIP, A CITY MUST HAVE THREE THINGS: A LARGE MARKET TO SUPPORT BUSINESSES IN THEIR EARLY STAGES, AN EDUCATED WORKFORCE, AND LOTS OF CAPITAL CHASING GREAT IDEAS.


LOGAN/AX: "If you don't have one of those legs of the stool, you're not going to have true entrepreneurial culture. In New Orleans, we've got two problems, I'd say, out of three there. One is we don't have the educational system to support it to a certain - to a great extent. And we also have a dearth of investors." (:18)


HE'S GOT A POINT. BUT WILLIAMSON SAYS NEW ORLEANS OFFERS NEWCOMERS AN OPPORTUNITY TO QUICKLY MAKE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES.

WILLIAMSON/AX: "If you're good, and if you're talented, this city is so hungry for the next success stories. So, you could be in New York, you could be in Boston, or you could be in San Francisco, but you're just another entrepreneur. In New Orleans, you're somebody that could basically become a leader that could create change in an American city." (:18)


AS FOR NAKEDPIZZA, WILLIAMSON HOPES SUCCESS WILL BEGET SUCCESS. LATER THIS YEAR WHEN A FLOCK OF INVESTORS DESCENDS ON NEW ORLEANS TO PITCH FOR FRANCHISE RIGHTS, WILLIAMSON PLANS TO LINK THEM UP WITH LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS AND GET SOME OTHER BUSINESSES OFF THE GROUND.


I'M ERIC EAGAN FOR WWNO.