Updated Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 06:11 PM
A pair of mustachioed pizza makers in blue aprons — visible from behind a glass display at a new Domino’s store in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood — tossed dough into the air as a handful of corporate executives looked on Tuesday.
Domino’s calls the concept “pizza theater,” because customers now can come in and watch their orders being made.
“This is the way we always made our pizzas. A lot of people just had no idea,” said Domino’s Chief Executive Patrick Doyle, who was in town Tuesday to see the new store at 4436 Rainier Ave. S. “It was sort of one of those lightning-bolt moments where we said, ‘Gee, maybe we should show them.’ ”
The new look is part of a four-year-long effort to freshen the pizza chain’s image and boost its growing ranks of carryout customers.
The open-kitchen format includes seating for a dozen or so people, a chalkboard where customers can leave comments and a refrigerated section for grab-and-go items such as salads and milk.
Founded in 1960, Domino’s long has been known for inexpensive pizza delivered to your doorstep. Its 30-minute guarantee helped make it the world’s largest pizza-delivery company in the 1980s (though it later had to drop the pledge amid charges that it led to reckless driving).
Today, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino’s holds a 22 percent share of the U.S. pizza-delivery market and ranks No. 2 overall among U.S. pizza chains.
More than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy carryout pizza at least once a month, making carryout the most popular pizza format, according to research firm Technomic. Nearly half of all pizza orders are for carryout, while a third are for delivery and a fifth are for eat-in.
Experts say that if a Domino’s store is nearby, many consumers prefer to pick up their orders and save a few dollars that otherwise would go to a delivery fee and tip.
Domino’s jumped on the trend last year when it began offering a weekday pickup promotion of a large three-topping pizza for $7.99. It also redesigned its logo, dropping the word “pizza” to reflect a larger menu, including sandwiches, pasta and chocolate “lava” cakes.
The remade Columbia City store is one of 74 franchised locations in the Greater Seattle area. Doyle said the plan is to redo all of them by midyear, which would make Seattle the first market to be completely overhauled.
Doyle said Domino’s also is setting out to hire 800 new full-time and part-time employees locally — something he attributed to new store openings, as well as solid sales growth.
Domino’s has about 4,500 U.S. franchised stores, as well as 390 company-owned stores. Its U.S. sales at stores open at least a year rose 3.3 percent in the third quarter, and its stock trades at the upper end of a 52-week range between $28.17 and $47.91.
Pizza Hut is the largest U.S. pizza chain, with an 18 percent market share, followed by Domino’s, at 11 percent, and Papa Johns, at 7 percent, according to Technomic.
Domino’s also faces stiff competition from newcomers such as Seattle-based MOD, which stands for “made on demand.” With eight local stores, MOD sells individualized pizzas for $6.88, letting customers choose from 10 predesigned offerings or create their own combination of toppings.
Chief Executive Scott Svenson said MOD caters to people who are increasingly discerning about what they eat, even if pressed for time and money.
“Twenty years ago, people were shopping for price and convenience. This idea that they’re going to deliver products to your home at a great price — that was new,” he said. “Now, it’s about a handmade, fresh product with higher-quality ingredients.”
In late 2009, Domino’s admitted that its pizza was not good and rolled out a new recipe promising a garlic-seasoned crust, bolder tomato sauce and tastier cheese. The new store format builds on that push to be more transparent, Doyle said.
“Consumers want to see what they’re eating,” he said. “We’ve always been known as delivery experts, but a third or more of our orders now are for carryout. We’re proud of these pizzas, and we want people to see it.”
Seattle resident James Johnson, 28, a longtime Domino’s customer, said he welcomes the changes. Johnson stopped by the Columbia City Domino’s on his way home from work Tuesday to pick up dinner.
“You can watch the pizza being made from beginning to end,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to see, depending on whether you’re engaged and not on your cellphone.”
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times
Domino's Pizza is trying to reinvent itself, and it's starting in Seattle. Salads and customer interaction have gotten a big upgrade.
Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times
CEO Patrick Doyle visits the company's newly designed store on Rainier Avenue South. Katie Ritchie finishes making a sandwich while the boss checks out the kitchen.