At first glance, Piada may seem like just another Chipotle knock-off. But it’s gaining buzz for bringing an upscale twist to the fast casual segment. The Columbus, Ohio-based chain restaurant is named for its signature dish, a flatbread wrap known as a piadina in its region of origin. Chris Doody, Piada’s originator and co-founder of the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, was inspired by street fare in Rimini, Italy, home to food carts and family-run kiosks specializing in simple cooking with few ingredients, says Matt Eisenacher, Piada’s director of marketing.
With more than 30 customizable ingredients, including salmon and calamari in addition to familiar chicken and steak, Piada prides itself on the breadth of its menu. Options “signify a much higher offering that people don’t usually expect in fast casual,” Eisenacher says and can be ordered in piadas, salads or pastas. There also are some signature menu items for those who aren’t in the mood to customize. To help drive home the message of quality, chef jackets are the standard uniform for managers.
Despite so many choices, Piada aims to send guests through the line in 60 seconds or less. “Queue ambassadors” are on hand at new openings to explain menu items and the ordering process and follow up at the end of the meal. “They basically are there to help [provide] a great experience,” Eisenacher says.
A centerpiece of Piada’s production, the hot stone, is where the flatbread that wraps its signature piada is heated. “It’s kind of like theater,” Eisenacher says. “[The chefs] brush it with olive oil, they put some seasoning on it, and the dough actually starts to brown and bubble,” adding charred flavor and authenticity.
Looking for opportunities to tie itself to local charities as well as local schools helps Piada give back. “We try to be local in everything we do,”Eisenacher says.
The wrap on Piada
Location: More than 20 throughout Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, with more scheduled to open in Texas and Minnesota in 2015.
Footprint: 2,800 square feet, on average.
Seating: Inside seating for 65 and patio seating for 20, on average.
Check average: Less than $10.