Straw Hat Pizza

A most cooperative franchise group

Straw Hat Pizza SS Logo.jpgWhenever I talk to a franchisor about developing a marketing plan the first thing I encourage them to do is create a compelling story. The Straw Hat Pizza story is about as compelling as they come.

In 1959, America was nearing the end of the baby boom and California was becoming the pop culture center of the universe. Surfing was all the rage and the beach was the place to be. Straw Hat began serving Genuine California Pizza from its first store in San Leandro, on the San Francisco Bay. The pizza was at the forefront of the lighter, fresher fare that became known as California-style cuisine. The pizza had a layered, flaky crust with a light, delicately seasoned sauce, the freshest toppings and six kinds of naturally aged cheese. No one had ever seen or tasted a pizza like it.

The popularity of Straw Hat Pizza resulted in the addition of more restaurants along the California coast extending into Southern California. It seemed that Straw Hat had caught the perfect wave and in the late ’70s introduced a highly regarded franchise program. Outstanding training and support was provided and strict operating standards were developed. According to Straw Hat, the company continued to grow and was considered
the dominant pizza chain in the Western United States.

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

In the mid-1980s, Pizza Hut was attempting to gain a foothold in the Straw Hat markets. In a bold move Pizza Hut purchased all company owned Straw Hat locations and turned them into Pizza Huts. The Straw Hat franchisees refused to participate in the acquisition. They believed so strongly in the Straw Hat Pizza brand that they formed a cooperative organizational structure.

Straw Hat Pizza became, and is to this day, owned and operated by the members of the cooperative, the franchisees themselves. The franchisee-owned Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation now offers three formats: Straw Hat Pizza, Straw Hat Grill (fast-casual concept with broader menu) and Straw Hat Express (limited menu for take-out and delivery.) Straw Hat Cooperative members pay only a low assessment and marketing fee which simply covers the cost of providing support. Service levels are high and the company boasts top notch marketing programs, group purchasing, product development and in-store consultations.

Today, the members of the Straw Hat Pizza cooperative know who they are and what they stand for. Each owner has a real say in his or her company’s future, and the Cooperative was recently awarded the prestigious seal of Fair Franchising by the American Association of Franchisees & Dealers (AAFD). They still serve delicious Genuine California Pizza and welcome inquiries from potential franchisees that would like to be part of this unique franchise organization.

Typical Californians. Always doing their own thing.

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