Updated December 24, 2018.
The pizza industry is changing, and entrepreneurs who want to buy into a proven concept to grab their slice of the proverbial pie have lots of options to examine more closely with these 25 best pizza franchises.
The global pizza restaurant market is now a $134 billion industry (up from $128 billion last year), and a third of that market is in the United States ($45.1 billion) with more than 75,000 pizzerias. Recent industry growth has been with pizza chains (opening net new locations of 954) while independent pizza shops have lost ground (a net loss of 1,253 locations).
And the chains have been broadening the concepts available to consumers, including brands focused on delivery and carry-out, dine-in, buffet-style, fast-casual artisanal, and so on. Pizza preferences do vary by region, so the part of the trick is to figure out what approaches will have the most traction in your area.
Of the more than 75,000 pizzerias in the U.S., just over half of them (55%) are independent shops (less than 10 locations). But the independents only take in 41% of all pizza sales, while the top 50 chains (more than 10 locations) take in 59% of the sales. This can be attributed at least in part to the fact that chains are generally better at adapting to changing pizza preferences, such as tech-savvy Millennials wanting to place their pizza orders online, which is something that can be prohibitively expensive for independents.
And when customers can place digital orders, they tend to spend more, which may have everything to do with Domino’s Pizza unseating Pizza Hut as the number-one chain by gross sales. Domino’s has been very aggressive in rolling out digital ordering options.
Millennials, who often think of themselves as health-conscious, eco-friendly foodies, are sustaining the new wave of fast-casual pizza chains that produce customizable, artisan, individual-sized pizzas in under five minutes, and they also tend to focus on fresher, healthier ingredients with less negative eco-impacts.
While there will always be die-hard independent pizzeria fans, when it comes to making serious money in pizza, the chains have all the action. Here are the top 25 pizza franchises that should make any short list of promising franchise opportunities.
1. Blaze Pizza
Blaze Pizza is a pizza newcomer 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. Pizza lovers then choose from among seven proteins, 17 vegetables, seven cheeses, and 10 sauces to customize their personal pizza. Blaze Pizza also prides itself on being the “greenest” of the fast-casual pizza chains with its focus on products made in the USA from post-consumer recycled and/or sustainable materials.
Blaze Pizza currently ranks #95 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 2012 and franchising since then, the number of locations has grown rapidly in the last five years to the current total of 283, six of which are company-owned and 12 of which are located outside the U.S. It became 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.
2. MOD Pizza
MOD Pizza has its own twist on the growing fast-casual individual artisan pizza phenomenon that includes 3-minute bake times in 800-degree ovens, 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 more than 215 locations. Founded in 2008 by Scott and Ally Svenson in Seattle, Washington, MOD Pizza calls itself a “purpose-led” chain with a focus on paying livable wages to employees while also giving them opportunities to give back to the community.
The company has also received a lot of media attention for giving employment opportunities to marginalized people with backgrounds that include incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction, and mental disability. MOD credits its hiring strategy for helping fuel its rapid growth to 380 locations in 28 states and the United Kingdom.
Domino’s recently unseated Pizza Hut to become the largest pizza chain as measured by gross sales, topping $12.25 billion (Pizza Hut still has more locations) according to the Pizza Today Top 100 Pizza Companies list. Dating back to 1960, the chain was among the first to popularize home delivery and now delivers more than a million pizzas every day, with Halloween being its busiest delivery day of the year. Domino’s has done well by keeping up with the times in terms of technology, with well over half of its sales being digital orders, which also results in higher average sales per order.
Founder Tom Monaghan retired in 1993 and sold 93% of the private company to Bain Capital, and Domino’s subsequently went public in 2004.
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). Pieology famously claims it can help customers create more than 78 billion pizza possibilities from its 40 different choices in toppings, which are sourced locally whenever possible on a menu that also reflects local trends and tastes. Pieology’s 140+ locations emphasize people coming together over food and offer a place where sharing a meal is an act of love.
5. Toppers Pizza
Toppers Pizza is a Midwestern chain that got its start back in the early 1990s. Its competitive advantage is found in targeting college students and the 18-34 crowd interested in late-night pizza delivery and carry-out, with most stores staying open until 3:00 a.m. or later. Its messaging and presentation reflect its target market with anti-corporate language. 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, Toppers currently has 77 locations, 21 of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
6. Papa John’s
Papa John’s is the fourth-largest pizza chain in the U.S. on the Pizza Today Top 100 Pizza Companies list with 5,200+ locations around the world generating nearly $3.7 billion in annual gross sales. The true legend of how the chain got its start dates back to the 1980s when founder John Schnatter sold his beloved 1972 Camaro Z28 for $2,800 in order to keep his father’s tavern open and convert it into a pizza shop. Like Domino’s, Papa John’s is focused primarily on takeout and delivery rather than in-store dining. It was also one of the first national chains to make online ordering available chain-wide in 2002.
This company is currently ranked #16 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has continued to expand steadily in recent years to the current total of 5,247, of which 678 are company-owned and 1,973 of which are located outside the U.S.
7. 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, and the first store that started it all in Garden City is still open today. In addition to its well-known catch-phrase of “Pizza! Pizza!” and square pizzas, Little Caesars broke new ground in 2004 with the introduction of its “Hot-N-Ready” concept, a large one-topping pizza sold for $5. The offering was a huge success and drove the chain to focus more on carryout than delivery or in-store dining.
Founded in 1959 and franchising since 1962, Little Caesars holds the #3 spot on the Pizza Today Top 100 Pizza Companies list, with 5,500 locations and gross sales of $4 billion.
Cicis is the largest pizza chain based on a buffet concept. Created in the 1980s by Joe Croce and Mike Cole in Plano, TX, 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 and its latest idea – 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 U.S.
9. Marco’s Pizza
Marco’s Pizza first appeared on the scene in Oregon, Ohio, founded by Italian immigrant Pasquale “Pat” Giammarco in 1978, making it the only major American pizza chain to be started by a native Italian. Giammarco came to the U.S. with his family when he was nine and grew up in Dearborn, MI, working at the family pizzeria, which is where he and his father created the sauce recipe still used today at all the chain’s locations. 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.
This company is currently ranked #25 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1978 and franchising since 1979, the number of locations has expanded rapidly in recent years from 172 in 2008 to the current total of 905, none of which are company-owned and 22 of which are located outside the U.S.
10. Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut has long been the global pizza chain leader, and while it still has the greatest number of locations, Domino’s has displaced it in terms of annual gross sales, with Pizza Hut taking in $12 billion. Started in the 1950s by Dan and Frank Carney in Wichita, Kansas, Pizza Hut is now a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., one of the world’s largest restaurant companies. The chain constantly experiments with new menu offerings, which has resulted in successful innovations over the years such as the stuffed-crust pizza in 1995 and the large rectangular Bigfoot pizza of the early 1990s.
This company is currently ranked #47 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1958 and franchising since 1959, the number of locations has continued to slowly 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 U.S.
11. Pie Five Pizza Co.
Pie Five Pizza Co. got its start in 2011 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, which now has more than 100 locations in 20 states. It offers unlimited topping choices at one price to go with its four made-fresh-daily crusts that include gluten-free, classic pan, crispy thin, and traditional Italian and seven different sauces. The menu is rounded out with both hand-made salads and desserts.
12. 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, the first Your Pie opened in Athens, Georgia. The chain fits into the customizable artisan fast-casual pizza niche with fresh dough made from scratch daily, brick ovens for baking, and 35 different ingredients from which customers can choose to top their 10-inch pizza. Pizza lovers can also choose one of Your Pie’s seven signature pies as well as order custom panini sandwiches. Creative promotions and new pizza creations round out this growing chain.
Founded in 2008 and franchising since that same year, the number of locations now stands at 63, of which two are company-owned and all are located in the U.S.
13. Hungry Howie’s
Hungry Howie’s claim to fame is being “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 eight different flavors. Current flavored crusts at the chain include Original, Garlic Herb, Onion, Cajun, Butter, Butter Cheese, Sesame, Ranch, Italian Herb, and Asiago. Customers can also request combinations of crust flavors. In addition to pizza, the menu at Hungry Howie’s includes calzone-style subs, chicken wings and tenders, bread, salads, and brownies.
This company currently ranks #214 on Entrepreneur magazine Franchise 500 List. Founded in 1973 and franchising since 1982, the number of locations has held relatively steady in recent years and currently stands at 551 (making it the 11th largest pizza chain in the U.S.), of which 30 are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
PizzaRev was launched in Los Angeles by Irv Zuckerman and Nicholas Eckerman, former co-CEOs of the radio empire Clear Channel Media. Their aim in 2012 was to ride the “pizzarev-olution” wave of craft-your-own individual-sized artisan pizzas sweeping the nation. PizzaRev’s potential for scale and growth recently attracted former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and his venture-capital firm, Cleveland Avenue, to purchase a majority stake in the fast-growing chain. 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 37, of which 17 are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
15. Papa Murphy’s
Papa Murphy’s, although far behind the industry’s leaders, is the fifth-largest pizza chain on the Pizza Today Top 100 Pizza Companies list, with nearly 1,500 locations and gross annual sales approaching $827 million. Its distinction is being the only national-scale pizza chain based solely on “take and bake” pizzas assembled in the store but baked at home. It was founded in 1995 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 daily from scratch, 100% whole-milk mozzarella cheese is grated daily, and veggies are hand-sliced.
This company is currently ranked #446 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has declined slightly in recent years to the current total of 1,469, of which 122 are company-owned and 39 of which are located outside the U.S.
16. 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 is defined by fresh dough made from scratch with only four ingredients (zero or double zero flour, water, sea salt, and live brewer’s yeast), hand-stretched, 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-staged kitchen.
Founded in 2015 by Menchie’s frozen yogurt CEO Amit Kleinberger and franchising since that same year, there are now 42 locations, with many more in the works.
17. Uno Chicago Grill
Uno Chicago Grill dates all the way back to 1943 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 1978 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 struggles to establish its identity and brand. Throughout its ups and downs, however, Uno remains the chain most closely associated with deep-dish pizza.
Uno’s is currently on the Pizza Today Top 100 Pizza Companies list at #18 with 113 locations and gross sales of $245 million.
18. Rosati’s Pizza
Rosati’s Pizza comes from a long history of restaurant activity in the Rosati family dating back to their first restaurant in New York City in the 1890s. At the dawn of the 20th century, the family moved to Chicago, opened more restaurants and started experimenting with pizza. Its main pizza offerings include Chicago Deep Dish, Chicago Thin Crust, and Double-Dough Pizzas. Also on the menu are calzones, pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads, and desserts. Most locations use deck slate ovens rather than conveyor ovens.
This company currently ranks #239 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. 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, 13 of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
19. Jet’s Pizza
Jet’s Pizza has been around since the 1970s, but it’s not well-known outside the state of Michigan. At the time, brothers Eugene and John Jetts 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 while the other half are scattered throughout 20 different states. Although Detroit-style pizza is the main attraction, Jet’s also does NY-style thin crust pies. It also has two different interesting 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.
This company currently ranks #127 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. 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 U.S.
20. Pizza Factory
Pizza Factory has been making hand-tossed thick-crust round pizzas since the 1970s when the first location was opened in Oakhurst, California by Danny and Carol Wheeler under the name Danny’s Red Devil Pizza. Ron and Joyce Willey opened a second location with the name Pizza Factory, which became the company name when they started franchising the concept in the 1980s. Menus for this chain vary by location, but in addition to pizza most also offer calzones, salads, breads, wings, pastas, and sandwiches.
This company currently ranks #337 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. 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 U.S.
21. Ledo Pizza
Ledo Pizza got its start in Adelphi, Maryland offering rolled-to-order pies from fresh-made dough and baked in rectangular pans. 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 Ledo menu includes appetizers, salads, calzones and strombolis, a variety of subs and sandwiches, Italian entrées, and soups. Its focus is on dine-in and carry-out, not delivery.
This company currently ranks #376 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1986 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations has held relatively steady in recent years and currently stands at 103, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
22. Fox’s Pizza Den
Fox’s Pizza Den was the dream of Jim Fox who started with salvaged equipment and a rented storeroom to open the first location back in 1971 in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania, and was among the first pizza chains in the Pittsburgh area to offer home delivery. More than half the chain’s locations are in its home state of Pennsylvania, with the others spread over 25 states. Fox’s offers pizza, hoagies, salads, sides, stromboli, and “wedgies,” which are sandwiches where the bread is a nine-inch pizza crust cut in half.
This company currently ranks #387 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1971 and franchising since 1974, the number of locations has steadily declined over the past decade from 313 in 2008 to the current total of 218, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
23. Villa Italian Kitchen
Villa Italian Kitchen began in the 1960s next to the CBS/Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway when founder Michele “Michael” Scotto brought his authentic old-world recipes from Naples, Italy to New York City. All the chain’s locations are committed to quality ingredients, homemade dough, and genuine hospitality. It remains a family-owned business and is now under the leadership of Michele’s two sons, Biagio “Ben” Scotto and Anthony Scotto. The menu features Neapolitan-style pizza, pan pizza, and stuffed pizzas along with calzones, stromboli, salads, wings, sides, Italian entrées, breakfast foods, and desserts.
This company currently ranks #316 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1964 and franchising since 1999, the number of locations has held relatively steady in recent years and currently stands at 248, 151 of which are company-owned and 23 of which are located outside the U.S.
24. Flippin’ Pizza
Flippin’ Pizza is a pizza chain that offers New York-style pies and slices. As the website explains, their pizza is “Not deep dish, not super artisanal, just your honest, old school, ‘I’m-from-Brooklyn-and-you’re-not’ pizza,” along with a healthy dose of New York attitude. It says the secret to New York pizza is the water used in making the dough, so the chain uses a special filtration system that mimics New York water in terms of PH balance and mineral content (calcium, magnesium, etc.). In addition to pizza, the chain offers five sides, four salads, and three calzones.
Founded in 2007 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations has declined slightly in recent years to a current total of 19, of which two are company-owned and all are located in the U.S.
25. Happy Joe’s
Happy Joe’s understands that pizza is the number-one comfort food for Americans, and ice cream comes in at a close second, which is why the full name of this chain is Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream Parlor, started by founder Joe Whitty back in the early 1970s in the Village of East Davenport, Iowa. He was aiming for a family-oriented restaurant and one that was very kid-oriented as well – hence the pizza and ice cream combination. One claim to fame is inventing the Taco Pizza, which has become a best-selling menu item.
Founded in 1972 and franchising since 1973, the number of locations has declined slightly in recent years to a current total of 48, of which 10 are company-owned and all are located in the U.S.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to growth momentum and brand equity. 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.