Even before MOD Pizza opened its Cahill Main location in December alongside its two other restaurants in the state, the rapidly-growing “fast casual” pizza company already got its cheese from – where else? – Wisconsin.
It’s only natural, then, that hungry Wisconsinites are drawn to MOD’s distinct, highly-customizable brand alongside pizza lovers across the country, allowing it to expand rapidly since founders Ally and Scott Svenson opened the first location in Seattle in 2008. Named “the fastest growing chain restaurant in America” by research firm Technomic last year, MOD now has 200-plus locations throughout the United States and United Kingdom, and is on track to open about 100 more by the end of this year.
When customers enter a MOD restaurant, they’re greeted with an expansive menu that allows them to personalize every detail of their meal using more than 30 different toppings, or simply opt for one of the menu’s “classic” individual-sized pizzas or hand-tossed salads.
The pizzas, cooked in a 730-degree gas fired-oven, can be ready in less than four minutes if a quick lunch is what you’re looking for. But MOD also offers beer on tap (the Fitchburg location has New Glarus Brewing Company’s Spotted Cow and Moon Man No Coast Pale Ale, as well as handspun milkshakes for the younger crowd) and plenty of seating for those who want to stay a while.
And if they sit in a booth toward the back, they can check out the restaurant’s signature “Wall of Fame,” a large display of photos tailored to each store that features familiar landmarks, high school mascots and dozens of candid shots of real customers and employees (the same four photos, featuring co-founder Ally Svenson and three other notable figures in the company’s history, can be found at every MOD location).
In a nod to the company’s family business roots, four of MOD’s 10 classic pizzas – the Tristan, Dillon, Caspian and Jasper – are named after the Svensons’ sons. They’re all popular at the Fitchburg restaurant, but Wisconsin district manager Krista Scott told the Star the “Mad Dog,” which has red sauce with mozzarella, pepperoni, mild sausage and ground beef, and the “Dillon James,” red sauce with mozzarella, asiago, fresh chopped basil, garlic, and sliced tomatoes, are probably this location’s best sellers. The menu also offers gluten-free crust and seasonal items (right now, it’s the “Bob” pizza, with spicy chicken sausage, roast cauliflower and corn, white sauce, red onion, cilantro and mozzarella).
‘Above and beyond’
Despite being part of a fast-expanding network of restaurants, Scott said each location is encouraged to dig into its community by supporting local causes and organizations.
The restaurant holds occasional percentage nights, collaborates on cross-promotional events with neighboring businesses like Bricks and Minifigs and donated about $1,200 each to three area schools, including Aldo Leopold Elementary School, as part of its grand opening fundraiser in December – efforts that are all part of a philanthropic philosophy ingrained in MOD from the beginning, Scott said.
“Our culture is very important to us,” she said. “We want how we started it, what made us MOD, to really continue to be that intertwining fabric that holds all the stores together.”
MOD opened 100 new locations in 2016 alone, and Scott helped kickstart the company’s first two locations in Michigan before coming to Wisconsin. Fitchburg is one of three MOD restaurants to open so far in the state, with two more planned for Madison and the Milwaukee area.
She said while it’s been “exciting” to play a role in the company’s expansion, finding a home base in Fitchburg and bonding with a growing roster of regulars has been equally rewarding.
“We want to make them (customers) feel special,” she said. “You want to treat someone like they’re your friend or your family, and go above and beyond.”
“Above and beyond” is a philosophy MOD tries to apply beyond its customer service, Scott said, through its treatment of its employees, or “MOD Squad,” as well. The company maintains a program called the Bridge Fund to anonymously distribute financial assistance to applicants “who have encountered difficult times in their personal life and need an extra hand,” according to company press materials. And each store’s team – more than 20 people, ranging in age from high school seniors to middle age, work at the Fitchburg location – gets to provide input on what charities or organizations to support during events like the company’s “Spreading MODness” week every November. For five days, $1 from every pizza sold goes toward that store’s chosen cause.
“‘Pizza with a purpose,’ that’s what we say,” Scott said with a laugh. “It’s more than just pizza.”