If anyone knows pizza it’s Marlon Huerta. From Director of Marketing/Operations at Telepizza, to CEO of Papa John’s Chile, he’s racked up over 15 years of experience running the biggest pizza chains in the world. Now he’s going up against them with a new venture, Melt Pizzas, in Chile.
We talk about building a disruptive but unique pizza brand and how Melt is becoming a rapid success on the Chilean pizza scene, growing from one restaurant to five in the first month of launch.
Why did you start Melt Pizzas?
After selling the Papa John’s franchise in Chile and opening Papa John’s in Spain for the same investor, we were really aching to get back in the Pizza game and try ourselves this time as operators of our own brand —a brand that was to be disruptive and independent in spirit, and that would adapt the general principles of a chained pizza delivery business to reach scale fast and be efficient.
How do you feel Melt differs from your competitors on the Chilean pizza scene?
The personality of the MELT brand and look and feel of our shops do loads when it comes to offering a different pizza experience. It’s really hard to surprise pizza consumers today through product alone and you really have to break from the 90s mold to stand out in today’s pizza space. The other key ingredient is people. They have to work hard and enjoy every step of the way so they can keep consumers coming back and share in on our success.
You’ve opened five Melt restaurants in your first month. What’s been the main challenge of such rapid growth?
The main challenge has been making sure that marketing keeps up with the rapid pace of development. Even in this day and age of digital everything, you still need some traditional marketing materials (think magnets, leaflets and such) to create awareness and stay relevant after store openings.
You have been working in the world of pizza for over 15 years. What’s been the biggest change in the industry you have seen?
It would definitely have to be the arrival of digital and mobile ordering, paired with the advent of food aggregation platforms. All those are here to stay and will forever reshape the way the world eats pizza.
What’s been your greatest mistake and what did it teach you?
I have made many mistakes in the line of my pizza work, but one that particularly comes to mind is not jumping on the online ordering wagon back in early 2006. I had requested a meeting with the then leading digital ordering vendor from the US while working for Telepizza. But at the time no zip codes existed in Chile and digital mapping companies were in the very early stages of development. So I quickly disregarded the opportunity for its many challenges and moved on to other projects. That taught me that gut feelings have an important place in business and that one should be persistent in tackling obstacles that come early on!
Why are design and branding important to Melt Pizzas?
They are important because they are the first line of defence against commonplace. Even before consumers put pizza in their mouths, they are absorbing our brand with their eyes.
Why did you come to London for your branding agency?
London is in many ways cooler and edgier than New York. It is truly a cosmopolitan city and a melting pot of ideas.
You allowed us to take you on a pizza tour of London recently, what would you say is your favourite pizza restaurant in London and why?
That’s a tough one. But I was very impressed with MOD Pizza and how their UK experience is even better than that of their founding US counterparts.
What’s the best reaction anyone’s had to Melt Pizzas since launch?
Hmmmmm, so many! We sent free pizza to a financially challenged family with a 10 year old who won one of five hundred laptops awarded by the state to promising students. He really wanted pizza to celebrate but couldn’t afford it. That comes pretty close!
Which of your Pizza’s gets the most compliments?
Our Pesto Margherita has been a definite sleeper hit! Although our Double Pepperoni still reigns supreme.
Finally, what’s the future for Melt Pizzas?
We will be a company admired by our team and our customers, and also by our competitors. Our willingness to do things differently is what will make us stand apart, whether we build 5, 50 or 500 stores.