From the beginning in 1988, Pizza Pipeline co-owner Mike Kight says he wanted the pizzeria to be the next “pizza giant.”
Franchises began sprouting up in states like Oregon, Colorado, Texas and Missouri. It was looking like Pizza Pipeline was on its way to being one of the biggest restaurant chains of its kind.
On Monday, Pizza Pipeline marks its 30th anniversary, and the dream has changed with age. The number of locations has receded back to Spokane and Pullman, allowing the company to regain its local edge and its simplicity – the key to its success, Kight said. There are now five Pizza Pipelines in Spokane and one in Pullman, down from 12 franchises in years past.
Things got out of control, Kight said, when faraway franchises began to mess with recipes. For example, one of the locations tried a Spam pizza.
“We felt like the product wasn’t our own,” Kight said. “They wanted to do things differently.”
Kight, 55, said things are more manageable and fun now. He never wanted to be someone sitting behind a desk and managing people from a corporate headquarters. Five days a week he’s behind the counters at Pizza Pipeline’s flagship store at 1403 N. Division St. Still, Kight hasn’t ruled out the possibility for expansion and more franchise opportunities.
He said he’s enjoying a window of creativity, like introducing new recipes such as the Greek-inspired gyro pizza or printing cutouts for the popular backyard game “corn hole” on the back of the pizza boxes.
But the pizza industry is tough, he said, with competition everywhere.
“There are a lot of new places in town,” he said. “Pizza Pipeline is having to compete with new chains like MOD Pizza, gourmet pizzerias like Fire Artisan Pizza, and breweries like Iron Goat that offer pizza.”
Kight said Pizza Pipeline’s niche is its simplicity and a slightly spicy sauce. Its cinnamon sugar Tricky Stix also are a hit, and the business specializes in delivery, he said.
A Washington State University graduate, Kight met his business partner, Gene Boik in Pullman. Kight studied hotel and restaurant hospitality, and he and Boik both worked at a pizzeria.
“We wanted to do it on our own,” Kight said. “We sold everything we had. The financing of our first store was very creative.”
Kight and Boik, who couldn’t be reached for comment because he was off the grid on a hiking trip, opened that store at the corner of West Sharp Avenue and North Washington Street in Spokane in 1988.
About a year after opening, the duo realized it would pencil out, Kight said, and that it was going to be a success. He said he believes Pizza Pipeline is the longest-running pizza company in Spokane that hasn’t changed ownership.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Kight said.