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Thu July 22, 2010
Pizza with a Purpose
By Ian McNulty
New Orleans, La. –
On the long and storied list of what makes New Orleans famous, healthy food and cutting-edge business development are not typically found near the top. But those are the very two ingredients that one local restaurant company has blended for a business model that's attracting extraordinary attention from investors and entrepreneurs, not to mention the pizza-eating public.
The company is NAKEDPizza, and it got its start in 2006 from a backstreet storefront in the Carrollton area. It was originally called World's Healthiest Pizza, and though the new shop had an obscure, hard-to-find location, the health claim in its name did turn some heads. And, when the pizza arrived, the frank, detailed digestive health information initially printed on its take-out boxes raised some eyebrows.
The difference is in the crust. Before getting into the pizza business, company co-founder Jeff Leach built a career researching and writing books on the evolution of human nutritional needs. He and his original partners set out to reengineer the nation's most popular take-out food into something that is actually good for you. The fiber-loaded pizza dough they developed mixes some 10 different seeds and grains, and it's also fortified with probiotics. That's the beneficial bacteria similar to what you get from certain yogurts. It's all intended to promote digestive health and fill some gaps in the typical American's nutritional equation.
So what does this NAKEDPizza taste like? Well, the crust is dense and slightly nutty, but overall it's a familiar taste, like wheat pizza dough with interesting character and soft texture. There are options like soy cheese and gluten-free dough, though you can also pile on the meat toppings.
That nutrient-loaded crust is still the heart of the business, but a lot else has changed for this start-up company. It's now called NAKEDPizza, and with this catchier name and a revamped look, the business now operates a single shop on South Claiborne Avenue, near Tulane University. This is a take-out restaurant which also offers delivery, much like the dominant national pizza chains. That's not a coincidence. NAKEDPizza founders say they're essentially using pizza as a Trojan horse to put a more healthy product in people's hands, and they're doing it with the same highly-successful, low-overhead format that consumer are accustomed to using, the same format that brings conventional pizza into countless homes, dorms, office lunch rooms and even classrooms each day.
Though the company remains very small, it has attracted the interest of some high-profile financial players, including billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The company now has a schedule to open 96 new NAKEDPizza franchises all over the country and plans for even more stores are in the works.
Further, attention from investors and public enthusiasm behind the concept has made it a best practice case study in social networking for entrepreneurs all over the world. For instance, Twitter uses NAKEDPizza as a case study in how to use its micro-blogging and social media services to propel a business, alongside case studies of such giants as Dell Computers and Starbucks.
Though the idea to develop and promote healthy pizza might have sprouted anywhere, perhaps it's fitting that NAKEDPizza got its start in post-Katrina New Orleans, an environment ripe for new ideas and reinvention.