C-Suite Insider: Papa Murphy's CEO Brings Pizzas Home on Halloween, Like His Customers

Halloween is the busiest day of the year for the take "n" bake pizza chain.

October 31, 2014, 4:59 AM
PHOTO: Ken Calwell, the CEO of take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy's, is bringing home pizzas for Halloween, the company's busiest day of the year.
Ken Calwell, the CEO of take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy's, is bringing home pizzas for Halloween, the company's busiest day of the year.
Keene Studio

— -- Like his customers who want to spend time with their families on Halloween, the CEO of "take 'n' bake" pizza chain Papa Murphy's will be bringing pizzas to his wife and son tonight.

Today, Halloween, is the busiest day of the year for Papa Murphy's, followed by Valentine's Day, the fifth-largest pizza chain.

"My family loves pizza too. I have to remember that, because I eat it all day," Ken Calwell, 52, said. "A lot of times I’ll bring home new pizzas we’re trying at the lab and they’ll get a sneak preview. I have to remember that they haven’t had pizza all day."

As part of ABC News' C-Suite Insider series, Calwell explains how Papa Murphy's is unlike any pizza chain you see on television. Calwell, in fact, proudly touts it as the largest pizza chain that doesn't advertise on national television. Customers customize the pizza they want, then you take them to bake in your home oven. "Fresh made, fresh created, fresh baked," Calwell says. The company's NASDAQ stock ticker symbol is FRSH.

He makes it a point to bring his wife pizza with "pink sauce:" her favorite combination of tomato sauce and creamy garlic sauce.

Here's more from Calwell about what a pizza-centered house looks like:

For someone who eats pizza a lot, what are your meals like?

"Breakfast in the morning is a refuel from working out so a lot of cereal and fruit and 'good for you' stuff," he said.

"Literally through the day I do miss a lot of lunches because I had pizza in the morning or right after lunch. Pizza becomes a big part of my day. We’re looking at new salads as well. Moms are coming in to Papa Murphy's not just for pizza but dinner for her family. We’re tasting a lot of dessert and bread items."

"My wife will ask, 'What did you have for lunch?' And she will guess pizza."

He said his wife is a "big cook...Almost every single night we have a family dinner. We hardly miss one. Dinner's probably around 7 o’clock every night. We eat a lot for dinner. My son especially. He's over 6' 3" with size 13 feet. He's growing like a weed. If he’s eating I’ll eat, then one day I decided 'I can’t do this.'"

What does your workout look like?

"It starts with my son actually," Calwell said about his 17-year old, who is a competitive swimmer. "We are up at 5 a.m. each day."

Calwell either goes for a run (four to six miles), bike ride or swims about two miles.

"He swims with all the fast, young guys in one pool. And the other guys are in another pool," said Calwell, a former marathon runner and triathlete. "We compare workouts every morning."

(Calwell has had a favorite pair of Asics running shoes since 1979. When he learned they were being discontinued, he bought 22 pairs from the company at $45 a piece.)

"My son swims before and after school so he’s also at the pool from 3:30 to 6 p.m. every day also. I try to get there by 5 or 5:30 p.m. on nights I haven’t gotten a workout in and we go home together for dinner," he said.

What do you do at work when you're not tasting pizza?

After he gets to the office, usually by 7:15 a.m., he starts the day with some planning, calls franchise owners on the phone, and attends a lot of meetings.

"We’re so focused on new products right now that a lot of the meetings are around new product launches," he said.

The company is in 38 states now with 1,440 locations and it is quickly moving east and west.

"We’re not in the Northeast yet. We’re in Baltimore, the Carolinas and Florida, plus southeast in Tennessee and Kentucky. We want to make sure we have a really strong following in the Midwest and West."

Who's Papa Murphy's target market?

Papa Murphy's target market is a generation (and gender) away from that of larger chains, where the 27-year pizza industry veteran previously worked.

"When I worked at Domino’s and Pizza Hut, they will say their number one day is the Super Bowl. They focus on young males," Calwell said. "For us, Halloween and Valentine’s Day are our biggest days. We really go after families and moms; so for families and moms, it’s all about family events."

Similarly, competitor Papa John's estimates that this year’s Halloween, which falls on a Friday, is estimated to surpass Super Bowl Sunday as their busiest night with 1 million to 1.2 million pizzas sold.

"We find that moms want to give their kids a little food before they go out trick-or-treating," Calwell said. Along with pizza, Papa Murphy's sells raw cookie dough that customers can bake at home for a warm dessert. For Halloween, it's offering an orange chocolate chip cookie "Spooky Dough" and a Jack-O-Lantern Pizza with a face.

Is there a family bed time?

"We’re really boring, because we’re very early to bed. After we have dinner together, he goes up and does homework. It’s time for Sandy and I to catch up on our day, then we’re pretty much in bed by 9:30 p.m."

Any late nights on the weekends?

"To get up at 5 a.m., I can’t maintain that. The weekends are still swimming again. I get up really early Sunday mornings and do a long bike ride then go to church," he said. "Our downtime is Sunday afternoon. We like to do outdoor activities so usually go for a hike. We have a river behind us and a fire pit behind our house."

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