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Curry Pizza House is manned by first-generation Indian Americans. The California-based company has expanded outside the Bay area now with 12 units and is poised for growth in large markets.

Curry Pizza House is helmed by first-generation Indian Americans. Founder Gursewak Gill put himself through school by working as a truck driver while dreaming of opening his own restaurant. Partners Romy Gill and Neelu Gill, vice president of marketing, also have a love of food. Now with one corporate store and 11 franchised units, the counter-service concept is set to expand outside the Bay area. Pizza Marketplace talked with Neelu Gill about the company’s concept and what sets it apart from the bevy of competition for pizza supremacy.

Q:You’re first-generation pizzeria owners. Why pizza as opposed to more traditional Indian fare?

A:We loved our home-cooked Indian food and never wanted to try and top home-made food by mom. But on Friday night (pizza nights) we felt the pizzas we ordered were bland or lacked some fresh flavor. It started with some experimentation at home and ventured from there into what was supposed to be a one-off hobby/passion. We never thought we would end up opening more than one store.

Q:How did you know you were ready to open a second store? How soon after the first store did the second store open?

A:It took us quite a while to open the second store. Once we saw the first store turn into a success, we started to discuss opening one more store to service our clients who traveled from the other side of town. Once the opportunity to open a second store came up in the ideal location, we dedicated ourselves to expanding out. There was a period of three years before the second store opened. After opening the second store, we felt much more comfortable opening the third and fourth store.

Q:What areas are you looking to expand into?

A:Mainly in large metropolitan areas which are cultural “melting pots.” Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and LA are our top priorities.

Q: What are you looking for in a franchisee?

A: We are now solely focused on growth via a franchise model. Our ideal franchise candidate is someone who has some restaurant experience and understands what it takes to run a successful food business operation. In addition, we are looking for franchisees that want to be a part of a brand that is all about being “Fresh & Spicy.” Being hands-one and customer focused is the epicenter of what we ultimately look out for in a franchisee.

Q:Curry Pizza House has an eclectic menu. What ‘s going to be your most popular item and what’s it got on it? Why is it the most popular item?

A: Our best sellers are:

  • Curry Chicken: curry sauce, cheese, mushrooms, bell peppers, olives, red onions, Jalapenos, diced tomatoes and fresh cilantro.
  • Curry Chicken Masala: curry sauce, cheese, bell peppers, diced tomatoes, red onions, masala chicken and fresh cilantro.
  • Chicken Tikka: white sauce, cheese, diced tomatoes, red onions, chicken tikka, green onions and fresh cilantro.
  • Achari Gobhi: white sauce, cheese, red onions, diced tomatoes and marinated cauliflower and fresh cilantro

For vegetarians, we offer a lot of different choices. The Shahi Paneer and Achari Gobhi are top sellers.

We also offer cauliflower crust for our gluten free customers.

Finally, what’s really an interesting trend is that we are seeing a lot of traditional American and Italian pizza lovers become loyal customers of our American classic pizzas like The Hawaiian, Pepperoni and Meat Lovers. These are made using traditional Italian ingredients (no curry flavored sauce) and appeal to all pizza lovers.

Q: To what do you credit Curry Pizza House’s success?

A:The top three things are: our sauce, which really is a secret sauce. It’s fresh and spicy. We make our sauces fresh and cut our veggies daily (never frozen); our crust — we pride ourselves in the crust. Like we say “trust our crust” — and finally, our customer service: we are maniacal about customer service. Our focus from day one has been to give our customers a unique and special experience when they experience our brand.

Q:What sets Curry Pizza House apart from the bevy of competitors in the pizzasphere?

A: The original recipe of the sauce and the fact that we refuse to cut corners or give up anything when it comes to quality. When compared to a typical traditional pizzeria, our operations have a bit more overhead because we are making everything fresh from scratch in the store daily. But in hindsight, this has kept our customers happy and loyal.

Q:How are you maintaining continuity across the brand as you grow?

A:We are being very selective on the franchisees we select to grow with. In addition, we have built our team to onboard, train and oversee the franchise operations as we scale out. Fortunately, we are able to partner with some amazing distributors for managing our logistics. At the heart, it’s all about building a solid team that continues to strive for excellence.

Q:Finally, if you had a piece of advice to give to a brand just starting to expand, what would you tell them?

A:I think the number one thing we would tell anyone looking to branch out on their own and build brand is to “be yourself.” Far too often, people try and copy another successful brand and in the process lose what might have been unique about themselves. If you have an idea or a skill when it comes to the food industry, follow your passion and don’t get distracted by other successful brands. Also, don’t be discouraged if you struggle out the gate. We struggled tremendously in our first two years. It takes time to build something special and unique. There will be ups and downs, you need to be ready for a roller coaster in the first few years. But once you hit your stride, all your hard work will pay off.

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