Pieology acquires rival Project Pie

Pieology Pizzeria, the design-it-yourself pizza joint, has gobbled up rival chain Project Pie for an undisclosed sum, the Rancho Santa Margarita-based company said Wednesday.

Pieology has more than 100 locations in the United States and one in Guam, while Project Pie has about 30 restaurants in the U.S. and abroad.

Carl Chang, chief executive of Pieology, said buying Project Pie is the first of what could be more acquisitions of rival chains. The fast-casual pizza market is saturated with restaurants that have opened recently, he said, creating ample opportunities for stronger operators to snap up smaller chains.

“When we started having success, everybody started copying us,” Chang said. “There are just too many” at this point.

Chang, who founded Pieology in 2011, said Project Pie was especially attractive from a real estate standpoint. The chain will allow Pieology to go into neighborhoods where it does not yet have a presence.

Diners can expect to see many Project Pie locations rebranded as Pieology, though some overseas restaurants could keep their names.

Pieology got a big boost earlier this year when the founders of Panda Express, Andrew and Peggy Cherng, took a minority stake in the pizza chain.

The fast-casual category, which includes custom pizza operations such as Pieology, is driving growth in the $225-billion fast-food industry. McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food chains have tried healthier and more innovative fare to counter fast-casual competitors, including Five Guys and Chipotle, that have nibbled their market share.

Pieology is on track to have more than 200 locations open by the end of 2016.

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