Detroit-Style Pizza purveyor Buddy’s Pizza is ready to dive into new markets thanks to the announcement of its new chief executive officer, restaurant industry veteran and former Nando’s U.S. CEO, Burton Heiss. The pizza brand has been steadily leveraging a development strategy since early 2018, when restaurant financier and private investment firm CapitalSpring acquired a majority stake in Buddy’s Pizza. Heiss will take over the reins from former acting CEO, Jim Balis, who remains the Head of CapitalSpring’s Strategic Operations Group.

In the last two years, CapitalSpring has laid the groundwork for continued growth of Buddy’s Pizza, including introducing back-of-house technology, a new point-of-sale system and delivery. Other locations include Michigan’s Grand Rapids, down river in Woodhaven and Plymouth. With momentum building in recent months, CapitalSpring knew it was time to bring on Heiss.

Heiss worked for half a decade as Vice President for Baja Fresh—a role in which he said he learned how to grow a team and scale operations—before serving as the CEO for the U.S. arm of peri-peri chicken chain, Nando’s, for eight years.

“It was definitely a challenge at the time, because here we were trying to grow Portuguese-South African fast casual fare in the U.S. market,” says Heiss. “But we did it. By the time I left, we’d grown the footprint from two to 40-plus locations.”

Heiss says he was drawn to Buddy’s thanks to “the brand’s palpable realness” and the opportunity to grow the beloved pizza concept into a new phase of growth and development.

“My focus was: ‘How do you protect the brand and guard against losing its essence, yet scale and grow into new markets and new opportunities?’” Heiss says. “That was much like what I navigated at Nando’s—and that, to me, was incredibly challenging yet also incredibly fulfilling. I see that same opportunity with Buddy’s.”

As of the end of August 2019, Buddy’s stood at 15 total locations, all presently corporate-owned. CapitalSpring has been at the helm for the preceding 20 months and, Heiss says, has focused on optimizing the partnership and fostering exceptional collaboration.

“The CapitalSpring team has a lot of experience in the space. I think they will stay closely involved and continue to offer insight,” Heiss says.

What’s next for the Motor City pizza brand?

“We’re committed to focusing on what makes Buddy’s special and leaning into that,” Heiss says. “We’re all about Original Detroit-Style Pizza and how can we expose more people to what we feel is a spectacular brand. I don’t see any limits to what we can do and where we can take Buddy’s. Again, because of our exceptional core product that’s unique and our verifiable provenance around Detroit-style pizza, it’s about how can we grow organically and with purpose.”

Heiss adds that, under his leadership, the brand will continue to expand in Michigan while still looking for similar markets in the Midwest.

“It’s all part of our plan to take Detroit-style pizza nationwide,” Heis says. “We’re already on our way.”

Chain Restaurants, Industry News, NextGen Casual