The Most Interesting Man in the Franchise World – Here’s Why

franchise world

Opening a pizza restaurant franchise isn’t exactly the most original business idea. But James Markham found a way to make his business, Project Pie, stand out in the franchise world.

Franchises are often considered to be “cookie cutter” businesses. But Project Pie is the “anti-chain chain,” according to Markham. Instead of using the standard franchise model, Markham encourages all of Project Pie’s franchisees to create their own unique restaurants.

No two Project Pie locations look the same. The restaurants just use the same ingredients, pizza ovens, and training manuals.

franchise world

Markham’s goal is to have each Project Pie location look, feel, and smell like its own independent restaurant. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t involved in the development of each franchise location.

While he does ensure that each location upholds the Project Pie brand, he also wants each franchisee to be involved in the creative process. And because of that, he is very deliberate in selecting franchisees. He said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends:

“Consumers want authenticity. And the authenticity in our brand carries through to each of our franchises. We get a lot of people who come to us and want to open 20 stores, and they might have a big checkbook but they don’t really get the feel we’re trying to create. We want to find the right people and the right personalities that really mesh with our brand.”

franchise world

Because of that selectiveness and authenticity, Markham said there’s a certain unexplainable quality that holds each of the locations together, even though they aren’t run by the same people and don’t feature the same designs.

That overall feel, he said, is what truly sets Project Pie apart from the myriad competitors in the fast casual pizza market. Markham is no stranger to the pizza business after opening Mod Pizza in Seattle and Pieology in California. He said the biggest compliment he can receive is when someone can’t explain exactly what it is that they like about Project Pie.

franchise world

Project Pie currently has 5 franchise locations in the U.S. and 6 in the Philippines, with 20 more expected to open by the end of 2014.


Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

11 Reactions
  1. Annie,

    This is sure a unique concept.

    I’ll watch to see how it grows.

    The Franchise King®

    • Martin Lindeskog

      Joel: When I started to read this post, I was thinking: “I wonder what Joel will say about this?”

      I think this is a bright idea!

      In Gothenburg you have a coffee chain called Le Pain Francais and every coffee shop is individually designed according to the location and the background history. For example, one location had been a bookstore, so they kept bookshelves with books in the coffee shop.

      • That’s also a really cool concept! I love to see businesses doing something a little different to stand out, especially chain businesses like these.

  2. I think it ups the commitment level even more if the franchisees are given creative reign. Their own signature/style is on it, which is a good thing.

    • I would definitely think it would make them more personally invested in the business. That’s always a good thing!

  3. We recently have stalls of this in my country and I am nothing but excited. It is simply exciting to create your own pizza not to mention that it is also perfect for dates.

  4. Martin Lindeskog

    Annie: I am curious why the franchise has started in the Philippines? Do they like American styled pizza there? Is it the strong military connection?

    • You know, I am not sure. But it’s definitely something to look into, and you might have a good point with the military connection!

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