In its dozen years, Crust Pizza Co. has grown into a regional go-to fast-casual pizza and pasta place.
With 26 restaurants in Texas and Louisiana, The Woodlands, Texas-based parent, Crust Franchise, has provided a cozy spot in its suburban markets, said Carl Comeaux, CEO and managing partner of Crust Franchise.
Crust was launched in 2011 by childhood friends Clint Price and Mark Rasberry.
“They were brought up in Katy, Texas,” Comeaux said. “From there, they ended up going to college together at Stephen F. Austin. They were in the same dorm. From there they went their separate paths. Mark went into the mortgage business, and Clint went into software sales. In 2008, Mark ended up selling out of the mortgage company in Dallas, reconnected with Clinton, and said, ‘Hey, we've always talked about doing a pizza restaurant. Let's do it.’ They actually were going to plant Crust Pizza in North Carolina and had a lease that they were fixing to sign. That fell through.”
They eventually opened Crust Pizza The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston.
“Within three months, people were just lining up out the door. It was just super busy — so busy that they had to sign a second lease at Alden Bridge, which is only a five-minute drive from the first one,” Comeaux said.
Four years ago, Comeaux and his business partner, Nicholas Fontenot, bought into the concept after selling their own businesses and opened their first Crust Pizza Co. unit in Lake Charles, La.
Comeaux said the menu sets Crust apart from the many pizza competitors.
“We're Chicago-style thin crust,” he said. “We cut our pizzas in squares. We make our dough fresh every day. All of our cheese comes in big blocks, and we shred that daily. All our produce is fresh. So truly our pies are high quality and fresh.”
Popular menu items are the appetizer cheese bread and pepperoni rolls. The concept also offers pizzas, pastas and desserts.
The ambience appeals to families, he added. “We're not a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint,” Comeaux said. “We spent a lot of time and money on making sure that it's a cozy environment that you could bring your kids after a ballgame or you could bring your spouse on a date night. It really satisfies both. So product ambience and then last, of course, our service you know it's all about making sure that each guest is happy and so we make sure that we have that hospitality. That's what makes the crust different from other joints.”
Most Crust locations are in shopping center end caps with room for patios. “We usually build out a patio so that way the kids could play,” he said. “On Wednesdays, we do half-off wine and so the parents love that they get to sip wine, eat pizza, catch up from the week while their kids play outside.”
To-go sales have increased since the pandemic, Comeaux added. “Before COVID, it was around 60% dine in and 40% to go-delivery-take out,” he said. “Now it's around 50-50 — so 50% dine in vs. 50% to go.”
The company has seven company-owned units and 19 franchised. Stores are between 2,200 and 2,400 square feet. Orders are taken at a counter, and the food is delivered and cleared from tables, Comeaux said.
“We are still opening up corporate stores,” Comeaux said, “but we're actively selling franchises. So we have we have already developed Houston. … Right now, we are expanding into Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas.”
He said the leaders plan to stay within Texas and Louisiana for now “because we don't want to compromise quality and support for our franchisees,” he said.
“Demographic-wise, we're looking for 10,000 people within a one-mile radius. We like to be in the suburbs. That's where we shine,” Comeaux said. Average ticket is $28 to $28.50
He said the company is focused on quality franchise groups.
“Our goal is to be at 250 stores in the next eight to 10 years, and we want to grow from Texas all the way to Florida up to the Carolinas,” Comeaux said. “The Southeast region is where we want to grow and expand and that's where we want to be known as a household name.”