Much of the rest of the state of Texas and eventually other markets around America will soon learn what many Austinites already know: Via 313 makes some of the best pizza in the country.
Founders and brothers Brandon and Zane Hunt have partnered with Savory, a restaurant fund operated by Utah-based Mercato Partners, to expand the brand across the state of Texas and into other markets. Savory is an investment partner in a portfolio of restaurant and beverage brands that includes Utah-based R&R BBQ and Swig.
The first new locations will be local, with Brandon Hunt telling the American-Statesman that the restaurant plans to open locations in Cedar Park and Round Rock within the next year. After that, the brothers and their new strategic partners plan to take Via 313’s beloved Detroit-style pizza to San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, with plans to eventually expand operations into Utah, Oklahoma and Colorado.
Terms of the investment and partnership, shepherded by Austin-based investment banking firm Morgan Kingston Advisors, were not disclosed.
"It makes us be a grown-up company instead of just winging it," Hunt told the Statesman with a laugh. "We picked Savory because they’re the total package. Anybody could just write us a check and tell us to blow it up and give (them) a check back later. We felt like they had the same values."
After moving to Austin from Detroit, the brothers opened the first Via 313 as a trailer in East Austin in 2011. Their plan had always been to open a single restaurant. That happened in 2015, following the launch of their second trailer, with the restaurant’s first brick-and-mortar location at U.S. 290 and William Cannon Drive in Oak Hill.
The brothers, who claim to be the first operators outside of Michigan to use the term Detroit-style pizza to market the thick, chewy, cheesy, caramelized, square-cut pizzas they grew up with, eventually opened restaurants in North Campus and East Austin.
Their consistently excellent pizza (baked in rectangular steel pans fashioned after the trays used in automotive plants in Michigan), friendly service and laid-back vibe immediately made them an Austin favorite, consistently landing them in the top 50 of the Austin360 Dining Guide.
The local success story also garnered national attention, with industry publication Pizza Today this year naming the restaurant the national Pizzeria of the Year. The publication noted that Via 313 does $12 million in sales annually, putting it in the top 13 among independent pizzerias in the country last year.
Brandon Hunt, who managed an upscale sports bar in Detroit before moving to Austin more than a decade ago, says that the partnership will allow the family-owned restaurant to grow strategically, with a professional organizational structure that exists in a world beyond their personal expertise: making great pizza and creating experiences for their guests.
"We’re not sitting around thinking what’s going to make the most money. We try and touch on memories," he said of the brothers’ vision of the restaurant they opened as an homage to the spots they remember from growing up.
Via 313 is the latest in a list of Austin-based food and beverage brands that have made the leap beyond the city’s borders, including Tacodeli, P. Terry’s, Uchi, Torchy’s and Hopdoddy.
The brothers’ restaurants have been operating as takeout only during the pandemic, due to concern for the health of its staff and public, though Brandon Hunt says they will roll out patio dining in the coming weeks, with a plan to eventually reopen dining rooms.
"We want get back to making people happy and taking care of people," he said.
Via 313 has done better than most area restaurants during the pandemic, though Brandon Hunt said the company is down about 25% in sales and has had to lay off or furlough about 60% of its staff. He said the reopening of limited dine-in service will allow them to hire back more staff, and that the partnership with Savory will allow them to provide a slew of employment opportunities during a period of economic crisis for the service industry.
The expansion will give room for longtime Via 313 employees to advance in the company. Brandon Hunt said that many of the restaurants’ employees have been with the company for more than four years, and he sees them as integral to the growth of the brand.
"I couldn’t be any happier. I think it’s gonna provide a ton of opportunities for our employees," he said. "The philosophy has been that they got us to the dance, so we’re going to take them to the show."
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