The Pizza Studio, a pizza restaurant located on Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, will reach 94 locations a year after the original opened. The idea for the Pizza Studio began in an environment far removed from a kitchen. Samit Varma, an alumnus of the USC Marshall School of Business, remembered making pizza in his mom’s kitchen during his time serving in the Navy. When he left and worked for a venture capital firm, he dreamed of returning to pizza-making one day. His dream became a reality after he received his MBA from USC, and opened the first Pizza Studio with his partner Ron Biskin last January.
Quickly, the team decided to build five more. Then, the business began to expand as a franchise. By the time the original Pizza Studio celebrates its first anniversary in early 2014, there will be locations around the country, from San Diego to Kansas.
Varma says one of his models for success is the burrito franchise Freebirds, which first opened near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has found USC to be a similarly nurturing community.
“The USC community has been great and very supportive,” Varma said. “We have had students, faculty and staff write many letters of appreciation and praise. USC is ground zero for what could be a major U.S. brand for pizza.”
The support of the USC community has not come solely in the form of their ability to eat pizza. Some students have submitted topping and restaurant ideas through rating apps and social media, which Varma has incorporated into the restaurant.
“The roasted corn was brought in from a student’s recommendation on Yelp,” he said. “We did our normal process of testing, and now it’s on the topping bar.”
According to Varma, a few months into business, some students suggested that the Pizza Studio offer online ordering to accommodate their busy schedules and perpetual desire to enjoy fast pizza. After a few months, the students’ wish was granted as the Pizza Studio rolled out a platform for ordering pizza online.
“Having a place to eat that adapts and incorporates the ideas from their customers is the best way to make your establishment improve,” John Vitzileos, a freshman majoring in international relations, said. “It is also cool to have a place that will cater to the needs of the students like online ordering that can allow for quick pick-up.”
Varma says that as an alumnus, it was important to begin his journey at USC.
“I think pizza is one of those foods that’s a very universal food — anyone from kids to adults, everyone loves pizza,” he said. “We wanted to start it near USC because I have an affinity for USC and know the area.”
The Pizza Studio has also had an impact on the surrounding community. Through the Starving Artist project, which features artists’ work on the walls of each restaurant, the Pizza Studio has sold more than $3,000 worth of art at the Figueroa location.
USC students and alumni alike are involved in the project. Latanya Seale, receptionist at USC’s MBA Career Services, heard about the project from Biskin when she was at the Pizza Studio. She passed the word onto her son Michael, who ended up selling one of his pieces to a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law.
Varma thinks that the USC restaurant provides a valuable model for the future of the business.
“The success we’re having at USC will translate to suburban and urban environments because the nature of this business is to be disruptive — this is not an experience that has been available before,” he said.