A parking lot in Cesar Chavez street is home to a white truck flying Firepie banners. From afar it looks like any other food-truck but this particular truck is an oven. Within it is a traditional Naples oak-burning oven that can reach up to 900 degrees to cook artisan pizzas in 90 seconds.
The Firepie truck, says its owner, is filling the space between fast casual and artisan food or as he puts it, “a combination of the menu simplicity of In-N-Out and the quality of Pizzeria Delfina.”
“I am obsessed with convenience and quality,” said Rick Richman, who runs Firepie from a small office behind the gourmet truck. For a year he has been offering his customers high quality pizza that does not require the time commitment of visiting a restaurant or the long waiting time and sogginess of existing pizza delivery services.
He keeps his delivery range within a 15 minute radius. Currently this includes the Mission District, Noe Valley and Bernal Heights, and parts of the Castro and SoMa.
“Firepie is the future of On-Demand food delivery,” he says and has plans to expand to multiple cities. His plan is to keep costs down by operating from private parking lots. Currently he operates from a parking lot, giving him one of the smallest commercial spaces in the Mission District.
Richman worked for California Pizza Kitchen for three years and went through their management training program. It was there that he first saw an Italian oak-burning oven and realized that pizza could be made really fast.
Before Firepie, he worked for T-Mobile’s global solutions team selling routing and logistics software for optimizing delivery routes, where he acquired the skills to create the Firepie delivery app. It allows customers to order pizza from their phones and he expects to innovate further with the app once he expands.
“When nationwide, I plan to add a feature to the app using GPS that lets you know if you are coming near a Firepie truck parked off the highway,” revealed Richman. He wants to provide a more efficient drive through. “You will be able to order ahead and get your pizza the moment you arrive,” he said.
“I want to compete with Starbucks delivering breakfast with wood-fired frittatas and coffee, and In-N-Out,” he said. “The dream is to become the next great American brand.”
Firepie’s sales, he says, have grown by 2566% since June 2016.
A recent article in SFGate says Americans are gravitating away from the fast food mega-chains towards fast casual food like Firepie. People are more interested in eating higher quality, healthier fast food than in visiting a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen. The casual food industry has grown by more than 550% since 1999.
Richman’s online reviews, however, have been positive, ranging from one to five with an overall score of 4.5 stars out of 5 on 118 reviews. Only seven people gave it one star.
One of his seven critics wrote “90 seconds in the oven is not how you make a good pizza.” Furthermore, he complained, for the size of the pizza “they are waaaaay overpriced.”
Richman says he doesn’t hold back on spending on good ingredients. He described the cheese, the pepperoni, the oregano, the imported Italian 00 flour as being top notch and the price reflects this. The price is still lower than other places like Pizzeria Delfina and Amici’s, who use comparable ingredients.
Furthermore, he added, 90 seconds in a 900 degree oven is the traditional way to cook both a Neapolitan and California Pizza. “It is an ancient cooking technique,” he pointed out.
Yelp fans think the three pizzas on the menu are “on point” and say that the service has always been friendly and good. One very enthusiastic Yelp fan, Monee C, thinks Firepie’s vegetarian pizza is one of the best she’s ever had. She wrote, “The mushroom and fresh baby arugula was what stole my heart. I mean it was every piece of the pizza. The cheese was dripping of the sides as if I were in a commercial! I was sitting there like…where have you been all my life.”
Luis C. who thought the pizzas were overcooked on his first try, was surprised by how quickly Richman responded to his complaints and liked the pizza his second time. “Rick is an awesome owner who cares deeply both about operating a good business and addressing customer concerns,” Luis C. wrote in a review.
Whether you like Firepie pizza or not, Richman is likely to survive in the near future. As long as he keeps the ratings up and his current volume of sales he will keep his place at the parking lot.