Pizza is an all-time American favorite. Holidays, birthday parties, office lunches, you name an occasion and there is a good chance that a pizza box is present. This staple has always been a cheap way to feed large groups of people. The simplicity of customizing toppings and the presence of delivery are just icing on the cake. There is no shortage of these chains in the U.S. and that number is only growing. The post-pandemic era has been a boom for pizza and consumers have been bombarded with options. Despite the ubiquity of this meal, there are only four dominate chains, and then everyone else. Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Papa Johns are available almost everywhere and have ads plastered on every available surface. Within this group of leaders lies a goliath, Domino’s Pizza. They lead the industry in about any category you can think of and it’s not particularly close. Forget the remaining members of the big four, with Domino’s supremacy, how is a small chain supposed to cut out their slice of the pie?

Compared to other restaurants, pizza chains are light years ahead when it comes to delivery as off-premise sales make up the majority of their revenue. After the initial hit of the pandemic, Domino’s recovered quickly, and they were well positioned to succeed in the new climate. While other restaurants were scrambling to synchronize their digital apps with their stores, Domino’s already featured an industry leading app that lets customers track their order through its various stages. To further their technological advantage, the company has invested in an automated delivery vehicle as a contactless solution for customers. They have also tested applications that track customers so that cooks will know when to put the pizza in the oven. Despite their dominance, there is no singular specialty menu item or feature they market, such as the Little Caesars $5 pizzas. What has made Domino’s so powerful is their willingness to adapt. They overhaul the menu frequently and have consistently expanded it throughout the years. Their international locations make radical changes by featuring more local cuisine and toppings like snow crab and foie gras. They also have a strong focus on delivery, going so far as to pioneer the modern reinforced pizza box. Their willingness to chase trends and cater to customer needs has led to their current status as the apex of pizza chains.

To challenge a goliath, it will take a mountain, Mountain Mike’s Pizza to be exact. Mountain Mike’s is a west coast pizza chain that was established in 1978. Since then, they have steadily grown and franchised as far east as Texas. They have two hallmarks, their freshly made dough and the ‘mountain’ of crispy pepperonis that curl upwards. Most of their restaurants also feature a dining room and they seek out that comforting local feel. Mountain Mike’s can’t beat Domino’s in a head-to-head duel, no one can, yet Mike’s doesn’t have to beat Domino’s in every category. Fewer locations ensure they are not spread too thin and thoughtful expansion allows them to be very selective about where their brand will be successful. They feature a smaller menu which cuts down on costs and allows them to offer fresh ingredients as-well-as their signature dough. Most pizza chains solely focus on the off-premise aspect, yet Mike’s has given customers the option to feel at home in a more traditional dining room setting. There are certain costs and risks associated with this model, yet their smaller footprint affords them options that Domino’s doesn’t have. Mountain Mike’s has identified their customer base and have doubled down on making sure that those customers have exactly what they walked in for.

Mountain Mike’s Pizza has challenged a goliath by focusing on a few strengths and by listening to their customers instead of chasing trends. It is unlikely that Mountain Mike’s will make it into the big four pizza chains, yet they are likely to remain on the lists of fast-growing chains for decades to come. Who needs self-driving pizza delivery cars when you can have crust to crust crispy pepperonis?