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Start Your Business Success Stories

Pizza Franchise Founder: Find the Person with the Power to Say Yes

project pie pizza
Inspired by Chipotle’s concept, James Markham founded fast-casual pizza franchise Project Pie in 2012. / Credit: Project Pie.

Entrepreneur and pizza lover James Markham founded his fast casual pizza restaurant, Project Pie, in 2012. Each pizza is custom made, costs the same price and is ready to eat in less than five minutes, whether it has two toppings or 26. Since its inception, Project Pie has grown to become an international franchise with two locations and several more opening in the United States and the Philippines.

Pizza and entrepreneurship have always been a part of James Markham's life. With a full-blooded Italian mother and a father that owned his own business, Markham was the perfect candidate to start an international pizza franchise. But success wasn't instant for the founder and CEO of Project Pie, a fast casual restaurant that serves "everyday artisan pizza custom built by you." Taking his experiences from two previous pizza startups, Markham learned how to follow his gut and seek out the person with the power to say "yes" to his bold ideas.

BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?

James Markham: I always thought I’d be a baseball player or a photographer. I guess I was a little far off since I’ve now been working in the pizza industry for almost 15 years.

[How to Start a Restaurant]

BND: Can you talk a little about Project Pie and how you got your start?

JM: I always wanted to work for myself and I knew nobody would want me to work for them. I got my start from a little bit of savings and pulling money off credit cards. I was inspired by what Chipotle had done with Mexican food – efficient assembly line, fresh ingredients and great branding – and thought the same style of restaurant could be done with pizza. I was surprised no one had done it before, so I started playing around and opening concepts of this style. I started with MOD Pizza in Seattle in 2008 and then created Pie-Ology in Fullerton, Calif., before combining the best aspects of each concept to found Project Pie.

BND: What was your main motivation to this business?

JM: To create something great. Even though we are an international franchise, you might not know it from looking at our restaurants. I want Project Pie to be as anti-chain as we can be, and to create a brand of one-off restaurants. We use all the same ingredients, pizza ovens and training manuals, but each Project Pie looks different from others, with different design touches, color schemes and vibes.

BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered?

JM: Whenever you do something that hasn't been done before, people are always skeptical until they see it done. It has to be proven. We are still in that proving ground stage, but we have big plans in the works.

BND: How did you overcome this challenge?

JM: I am driven and I never take no for an answer. If I hear "no," I’ll find the person with the power to say "yes."

BND: What's the best part of owning your own business?

JM: Being able to do things that affect change for other people and seeing how your vision can help others achieve their own success.

BND: What's the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?

JM: That list is so long, I would need about 15 sheets of paper. But the number one mistake I've made is not following my gut.

BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?

JM: If you truly believe in what you are doing don't let anybody tell you that you can't do it. You have to go out there and figure it out. Don't get discouraged. You should have a passion for what you do. I always tell people that when it comes to this movement in food, I definitely take a huge amount of pride in the craft of the food and design that goes into it.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.