Revised and updated October 6, 2019.
Pizza restaurants in the US have been riding the wave of the longest post-recession economic recovery in history. There are now more than 93,600 pizzerias that raked in a collective $47 billion in revenues in 2019, with continued growth on the horizon. Entrepreneurs who want to get their slice of this proverbial pie have plenty of options from which to choose on this list of the top 26 pizza franchises of 2020.
More than 60% of pizzerias reported an increase in sales during 2019 compared to 2018. Traditionally, there have been more independent and small-chain (less than 10 locations) pizza shops, and while that’s still true (55% of all pizzerias are independent or small-chain operations), 59% of the industry’s revenue is generated by the top 50 pizza restaurant chains.
What’s driving the pizza industry right now comes down to three main forces: technology, quality ingredients, and youth culture. The technology piece is behind the resurgence of Domino’s as a global force that now outstrips Pizza Hut in terms of overall sales. After hitting an all-time low in 2008 when its stock was selling for $3/share, now it’s selling for $240/share! The chain has been very aggressive in rolling out online and mobile ordering options, and everyone knows digital ordering tends to result in higher spending per order. Consumers can order a Domino’s pizza on just about any device you can think of.
The demand for fresher, higher-quality, healthier ingredients has been a driving force behind the rise of the better pizza movement as embodied in the fast-casual pizza chains that produce customizable, artisan pizzas in under five minutes. This demand for better and healthier ingredients rises with the age of consumers, which helps explain why pizza consumption goes down with age. Gen Z’ers and Millennials are the big consumers of pizza, and also drive the demand for robust digital ordering options.
For savvy entrepreneurs who want to make serious money in pizza, it is the chains that have all the action. Here are the 26 best pizza franchises of 2020:
Domino’s is the new king of pizza, both in terms of global sales ($13.5 billion) and number of locations. The chain was among the first to popularize home delivery and now delivers more than a million pizzas every day. It recently rolled out pizza delivery by custom e-bikes made by electric bicycle company Rad Power Bikes.
The secret to Domino’s success has a lot to do with ordering technology. The company’s new AnyWare digital ordering platform expands the kinds of devices consumers can use to place orders, including smart speakers (Amazon Echo/Alexa), smart TVs, smart watches, and social media platforms along with the usual array of desktops, tablets, and mobile phones.
Founded by brothers Thomas and James Monaghan in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1960, the latest annual report filing (2018) from the company indicates there were 15,914 locations, of which 390 are company-owned and 10,038 are located outside the US.
2. Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut was started in the 1950s by Dan and Frank Carney in Wichita, Kansas, and is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., one of the world’s largest restaurant companies. In an effort to not fall further behind Domino’s, the company recently announced it will close about 500 dine-in locations in order to focus on the more popular delivery and carryout segment. Playing catch-up to the rivals stealing your market share is not a good place to be, but while the Hut’s market share has fallen from 25% in 1995 to its current 13.3%, there are still plenty of loyal consumers supporting the chain.
Founded in 1958 and franchising since 1959, the number of locations has continued to expand in recent years to the current total of 15,418, of which 93 are company-owned and 9,304 of which are located outside the US.
3. Little Caesars
Little Caesars was founded in 1959 by Mike Ilitch, a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers farm team at the time, and his wife Marian. The first location in Garden City is still open today. The company recently built a new 9-story $150 million headquarters building in Detroit featuring a glass façade composed of panes of glass in the triangular shape of pizza slices.
In addition to its well-known catch-phrase of “Pizza! Pizza!” and square pies, Little Caesars broke new ground with the introduction of its “Hot-N-Ready” concept, offering carryout pizzas at surprisingly low prices during certain hours of the day, such as 4-8 p.m.
Founded in 1959 and franchising since 1962, there are nearly 6,000 locations in the US and around the world.
4. Papa John’s
Papa John’s got its start back in the mid-1980s when founder John Schnatter sold his beloved 1972 Camaro Z28 for $2,800 in order to keep his father’s tavern open and converted it into a pizza shop. Papa John’s is focused more on takeout and delivery than in-store dining. It was also one of the first national chains to make online ordering available chain-wide in 2002.
Although it has struggled to find its footing in the highly competitive pizza market, it’s making headway with its back-to-basics BIBP approach – better ingredients, better pizza. Schnatter stepped down as company chairman following controversy around his use of a racial slur.
Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has continued to expand steadily in recent years to the current total of 5,336, of which 645 are company-owned and 2,139 of which are located outside the US.
5. Papa Murphy’s
Papa Murphy’s claim to fame is being the only national-scale pizza chain based solely on “take and bake” pizzas assembled in the store and baked by customers at home. It was the mid-1980s when Terry Collins acquired and consolidated two existing chains, Papa Aldo’s Pizza and Murphy’s Pizza.
Papa Murphy’s emphasizes the freshness of its ingredients, noting its stores do not have freezers, dough is made fresh from scratch daily, 100% whole-milk mozzarella cheese is grated daily, and veggies are hand-sliced. The chain was recently acquired by Canadian company MTY Group, which operates more than 70 different quick-service and casual-dining restaurant brands.
Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has declined in recent years to the current total of 1,469, of which 122 are company-owned and 39 of which are located outside the US.
6. Marco’s Pizza
Marco’s Pizza was recently named “Pizza Chain of the Year” in a Harris Poll EquiTrend survey of more than 77,000 people. The company was founded by Italian immigrant Pasquale “Pat” Giammarco and is the only major American pizza chain to be started by a native Italian. Restaurant industry guru Jack Butorac took over the chain in 2004 when it had just 123 locations and grew it into the national chain it is today.
Founded in 1978 and franchising since 1979, the number of locations has expanded rapidly in recent years to the current total of 905, none of which are company-owned and 22 of which are located outside the US.
7. Hungry Howie’s Pizza and Subs
Hungry Howie’s Pizza and Subs claims to be the “Home of the Flavored Crust Pizza” as it was one of the first pizza chains to create flavored crusts, which it launched back in 1985 with 8 different flavors, which today include butter, butter cheese, Cajun, garlic herb, onion, ranch, sesame, and Asiago cheese. In addition to pizza, the menu at Hungry Howie’s includes calzone-style subs, chicken wings and tenders, bread, salads, and brownies.
The chain has been a latecomer to digital marketing and has learned some hard lessons along the way, but is finding success now with a fully-integrated marketing plan, supplemented by having the same point-of-sale system in all locations to quickly implement daily specials.
Founded in 1973 and franchising since 1982, the number of locations has held mostly steady in recent years and currently stands at 551, of which 30 are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
8. MOD Pizza
MOD Pizza was named by Nation’s Restaurant News as America’s fastest-growing restaurant chain as defined by systemwide sales, which grew by 44.7% last year at this chain featuring fast-casual individual artisan pizzas with 3-minute bake times in 800-degree ovens. The concept includes flat-rate pricing no matter how many toppings customers choose for their MOD (made-on-demand) pizza or customizable salad, a family-friendly DIY vibe, and unique locally-inspired décor at each of its locations.
Founded in 2008 by husband-and-wife team Scott and Ally Svenson in Seattle, Washington, MOD Pizza calls itself a “purpose-led” chain with a focus on paying livable wages to employees, including those who have backgrounds that include incarceration, substance abuse, and mental health challenges. The number of locations has grown rapidly to the current total of 433 locations in 28 states and the United Kingdom.
Cicis is the largest pizza chain based on a buffet concept and recently rolled out its Unlimited campaign – all the pizza a customer can eat from the buffet for one surprisingly low price. And there’s typically no fewer than 15 different kinds of pizzas on the buffet line. This makes Cicis popular with families and post-event school groups.
Created in the 1980s by Joe Croce and Mike Cole in Plano, Texas, the pizza buffet at Cicis features several types of pizza, including traditional, deep-dish, rectangular flatbread, and stuffed crust. The chain is also known for offering distinctively unique creations such as macaroni and cheese pizza as well as various flavors of wings as pizza toppings.
Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1987, the number of locations has declined steadily from a high of 639 in 2009 to the current total of 427, 49 of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
10. Jet’s Pizza
Jet’s Pizza has been a mainstay in Michigan since the 1970s, although its presence in 20 other states has more people saying the company motto, “Let’s get Jet’s!” The company was founded by brothers Eugene and John Jetts when they decided to bring Detroit-style pizza (square deep-dish) further north of the city to Sterling Heights. Nearly half of the chain’s locations are in Michigan.
In addition to both Detroit-style and New York-style pizza, Jet’s also has two unique types of sandwiches – the Jetzee, which is like a grilled panini but made with a deep-dish dough as the bread, and the Boat, also made from pizza dough like a calzone, but open on one side. And for those looking for low-carb pizza, Jet’s has been testing an Italian-seasoned cauliflower crust pizza.
Founded in 1978 and franchising since 1990, the number of locations currently stands at 388, 37 of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
11. Round Table Pizza
Round Table Pizza was started in the late 1950s by William R. Larson, who opened the first location in Menlo Park, California. In 1961, he adopted the King Arthur and knights of the round table theme suggested by a friend. The company has been through a lot. It became entirely employee-owned in 1992. It went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011 and emerged stronger than before.
The standard format for a Round Table Pizza location focuses on pizza and salads, but there’s a new format available called Round Table Pizza Clubhouse – Pizza Pub Play with video arcade games for kids, large-screen televisions for sports viewing, a bigger menu, and a selection of craft beers. In 2017, the company was acquired by Global Franchise Group.
Founded in 1959 and franchising since 1962, the number of locations recently dropped from a high of 444 in 2016 to the current total of 380, of which 74 are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
12. Blaze Pizza
Blaze Pizza recently nabbed the number one spot in Market Force’s survey of best QSR brands as chosen by consumers, edging out both Papa Murphy’s (second place) and Marco’s Pizza (third place) in the ultra-competitive pizza restaurant segment. Blaze, still considered a pizza newcomer, was started by Rick Wetzel, a co-founder of Wetzel’s Pretzels.
Executive chef Bradford Kent was enlisted to perfect an 11-inch thin crust from dough allowed to ferment a full 24 hours before getting shaped into a crust, giving Blaze pies their distinctive lighter-than-air crispness. The chain has also received a big boost from being backed by NBA megastar LeBron James and is now considering going public.
Founded in 2012 and franchising since then, the number of locations has grown rapidly to more than 300 restaurants in 42 states and five countries. It was the first of the new fast-casual pizza chains to hit 50 locations at the end of 2014 then went on to be the first to hit 100 units and $100 million in sales.
13. Mountain Mike’s Pizza
Mountain Mike’s Pizza dates back to the late 1970s when it was started in Palo Alto, California and has since expanded into Oregon, Nevada, and Utah with casual, family-friendly locations known for their crispy, curly pepperoni. Customers can build their own classic round pies or choose one of the chain’s 10 specialty pizzas, along with wings, sandwiches, salads, sides, and desserts. It markets itself as the go-to pizza spot for families, sports teams, groups, and big game nights.
Founded in 1978 and franchising since 1981, the number of locations has marched steadily up in recent years to the current total of 205, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
Donatos started out in the early 1960s when founder Jim Grote bought a pizza shop on the south side of Columbus, Ohio for $1,300 when he was a sophomore at Ohio State. The chain features Ohio-style pizza, which is a thin-crust round pie cut into square slices with toppings all the way to the edge. The chain got a big boost in 2013 when chairperson Jane Grote Abell (the founder’s daughter) appeared on the CBS reality television show Undercover Boss. Each location also serves up calzones, oven-baked subs, wings, salads, sides, and desserts.
McDonald’s bought the company back in the 1970s when it wanted to add pizza to its menu, but it didn’t work out and the Grotes bought the company back. Now Red Robin is considering adding Donatos pizza to its menu.
Founded in 1963 and franchising since 1991, the number of locations has been fairly steady in recent years and currently stands at 160, of which 57 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
15. Rosati’s Pizza
Rosati’s Pizza comes from a long history of restaurant activity in the Rosati family dating back to the 1890s. When the family moved to Chicago in the early 1900s to open more restaurants, they started experimenting with pizza.
Rosati’s main pizza offerings include Chicago Deep Dish, Chicago Thin Crust, Double-Dough (twice as thick with a unique hand-rolled edge), and Stuffed pizzas (ingredients between two crusts, baked 40 minutes and topped with sauce). Also on the menu are appetizers, calzones, pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads, fried chicken, ribs, and desserts. Most locations use deck slate ovens rather than conveyor ovens.
Founded in 1964 but franchising only since 2006, the number of locations has climbed in recent years from 113 in 2009 to the current total of 144, of which 13 are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
Pieology was started by Carl Chang and serial pizza entrepreneur James Markham (Knockout Pizza, New York Style Pizza in China, MOD Pizza, and Project Pie) in 2011. Pieology offers more than 40 different choices in toppings, which are sourced locally whenever possible on a menu that also reflects local trends and tastes.
The chain recently rolled out six premium crust options (Artisan Thin, Artisan Thin Hearty Wheat, PieRise Thick, Hand-Crafted Deep Dish, Cauliflower Crust, and Gluten Free) and several plant-based proteins that look and taste like meat but are made from veggies, including “Beef Meatballs,” “Spicy Italian Sausage Rounds,” and “Diced Chicken.”
Pieology’s 140+ locations emphasize people coming together over food and offering “…a fresh retreat from the everyday hustle and bustle – where the only thing more important than quality food is quality people to share it with.”
17. Ledo Pizza
Ledo Pizza has made a name for itself as a regional pizza franchise known for its unique square pizzas. Every pizza is rolled to order from fresh-made dough. Company president James Beall is proud of his family’s long history with pizza, which dates back to his grandfather opening the first Ledo shop in 1955 in Adelphi, Maryland. Round pizza pans weren’t common back then, and Ledo’s has stuck with the rectangular pans it started out with. As it says on the company website, “It may take a little longer, but it sure is worth it.”
Ledo is also known for its extra-thick pepperoni slices. In addition to pizza, the menu includes appetizers, salads, calzones and strombolis, a variety of subs and sandwiches, Italian entrées, and soups.
Founded in 1955 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations has held steady in recent years and currently stands at 106, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
18. Pizza Factory
Pizza Factory has a motto: “We toss ‘em, they’re awesome” and has been making hand-tossed thick-crust round pizzas since the late 1970s when the first location was opened in Oakhurst, California. Menus for this chain vary by location, but in addition to pizza, most also offer calzones, salads, breads, wings, pastas, and sandwiches.
CEO Mary Jane Riva has talked about her strategy of targeting smaller towns (10,000 residents or less) where better real estate deals can be found, as well as having more of an impact on the local community.
Founded in 1979 and franchising since 1985, the number of locations has declined from a high of 128 in 2008 to the current total of 104, only one of which is company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
19. Uno Pizzeria & Grill
Uno Pizzeria & Grill dates all the way back to the early 1940s in Chicago when Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo popularized the deep-dish pizza concept, although whether or not they invented the idea is disputed. Franchising began in the late 70s and at its height, the chain boasted more than 200 locations.
It has undergone menu expansions and contractions as well as several name changes over the years as it has struggled to establish its identity and brand. Throughout its ups and downs, however, Uno remains the chain most closely associated with deep-dish pizza.
Founded in 1943 and franchising since 1978, the number of locations listed on the company website includes 88 domestic locations and six international locations in Saudi Arabia, Honduras, and India.
20. Your Pie
Your Pie founder Drew French’s eyes were opened to new pizza possibilities while honeymooning on the small Italian island of Ischia in 2006. Two years later, at the age of 23, he opened the first Your Pie location in Athens, Georgia, making him one of the pioneers in the fast-casual pizza movement. There was a learning curve for early customers, many of whom found eight sauces, eight cheeses, and around 40 toppings overwhelming.
The chain offers customizable artisan 10-inch pizzas with fresh dough made from scratch daily and baked in brick ovens. Pizza lovers can also choose one of Your Pie’s seven signature pies as well as order custom panini sandwiches.
Founded in 2008 and franchising since that same year, the number of locations now stands at more than 70, of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
21. LaRosa’s Pizzeria
LaRosa’s Pizzeria dates back to the mid-1950s when the first location was opened in Cincinnati, Ohio by Donald “Buddy” LaRosa and several partners including Richard “Muzzie” Minella, Mike Soldano, and Frank “Head” Serraino. The chain’s round pies feature crust choices that include traditional thin, hand tossed, crispy pan, or artisan wheat. Customers can customize their pies or choose from among five classic specialty pizzas or four deluxe pizzas. It also serves three different oval-shaped flatbread pizzas on a multigrain wheat crust. The menu also includes starters, wings, soups, salads, calzones, hoagies, pasta, and desserts.
LaRosa’s is the exclusive pizza served in a number of different venues, including Kings Island and Coney Island amusement parks, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Riverbend Music Center, Perfect North Slopes, and the Great American Ball Park (home of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team).
Founded in 1954 and franchising since 1967, the number of locations has held steady in recent years and currently stands at 63, of which 11 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
22. Pie Five Pizza Co.
Pie Five Pizza Co. was started by Rave Restaurant Group as part of the new wave of quick-
made handcrafted personal pizzas, with the “five” in the company’s name referring to the length of time it takes to prepare a pizza at the chain. The company was growing rapidly from its founding in 2011 up through 2017 when it opened its milestone 100th location, but has been contracting ever since and now lists only 59 locations on its website.
It offers unlimited topping choices at one price to go with its made-fresh-daily crusts that include crispy artisan thin, classic pan, traditional Italian, gluten-free, and a low-carb cauliflower crust. Further customization comes with six sauces, five cheeses, 16 veggies, eight meats, and seven more “fresh finishes” like fresh basil, chopped cilantro, crumbled feta, and so on. The menu is rounded out with both hand-made salads and desserts.
23. Toppers Pizza
Toppers Pizza is a midwestern chain that doesn’t hide its ambition to fight its way to the top of the pizza industry through great pizza, awesome culture, and state-of-the-art ordering. It targets the 18-34 crowd interested in late-night pizza delivery and carry-out, with most stores staying open until 3 a.m. or later. This is also why it focuses on digital ordering. As the company website puts it: “…order it at the counter, over the phone, go to the Website, apps, text messaging, Alexa, YOUR TENNIS SHOES! Any way you can dream of ordering it, boom, it’s there.”
In addition to pizza, the chain offers seven styles of Topperstix (breadsticks) and seven different versions of buffalo wings. Founded by Scott Gittrich after he became frustrated with the national pizza chain he worked for, the company website lists 55 locations, all of which are located in the US.
24. MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza
MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza differentiates itself in the fast-casual artisan pizza niche by its devotion to the 300-year-old tradition of Neapolitan pizza-making, which requires fresh dough made from scratch with only four ingredients (zero or double zero flour, water, sea salt, and live brewer’s yeast) that is hand-stretch and baked for 60-90 seconds in a wood-fired oven maintained at a temperature of at least 905°F. The chain can also be described as “upscale” fast casual in its approach and ambiance, including its open, center-stage kitchen.
Founded in 2015 by Menchie’s frozen yogurt CEO Amit Kleinberger and franchising since that same year, there are now around 42 locations, with more on the way.
25. Paisano’s Pizza
Paisano’s Pizza is a fairly standard pizza chain using dough made fresh daily for its round New York-style pies. Customers can build-their-own or choose one of 10 gourmet pizzas, along with appetizers, wings, salads, calzones, strombolis, Italian entrées (pasta and more), subs and burgers, other sandwiches, and desserts.
The company has made use of hockey players from the Washington Capitals team in recent ads, including Andre Burakovsky and Devante Smith-Pelly promoting the chain’s occasional Sunday BOGO (buy one, get one free) offer. It has also enlisted athletes from other area teams, including basketball players from the Wizards.
Founded in 1998 and franchising since 2009, the number of locations currently stands at 40, of which 13 are company-owned and all are located in the US. Most of the locations are in Virginia near Washington, DC.
PizzaRev was launched in Los Angeles by Irv Zuckerman and Nicholas Eckerman. Their aim in 2012 was to ride the “pizzarev-olution” wave of craft-your-own individual-sized artisan pizzas. PizzaRev’s potential for scale and growth attracted former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and his venture-capital firm, Cleveland Avenue, to purchase a majority stake in the fast-growing chain, although it hasn’t grown much in the last couple years. PizzaRev offers 11-inch pizzas crafted with original or gluten-free dough, both of which are vegan, baked in under three minutes in 900-degree ovens.
Founded in 2011 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations currently stands at 36, of which 17 are company-owned and three of which are located in Mexico. The company website also lists two locations as “coming soon.”
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.