By Eric Peterson | Jul 10, 2015
Portable Wood Fired Pizza Ovens
Denver (manufacturing facility in Fort Collins)
Joseph Pergolizzi started the company because he was seriously passionate about pizza. "He thought it would be incredible to have a mobile oven," says Dharma, who bought the business in 2014 after spending most of his career in IT consulting with EDS. "Like most entrepreneurs, he started thinking, 'How can I get this built?'"
Pergolizzi partnered with Maxey Trailers in Fort Collins to produce specialized trailers designed for wood-fired, brick pizza ovens.
But engineering such an oven was no simple task. "We have to comply with federal highway standards," says Dharma. "It has to be constructed so it withstands vibration." The fact that masonry is involved makes this even trickier: It takes six weeks for an oven to be completed after Maxey delivers a trailer.
Fire Within has sold 500 mobile ovens to date to customers in all 50 states, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Belgium. "We are the leader in the world in what we do," says Dharma.
Requiring just $12 in wood daily, the ovens heat up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit in a mere 50 minutes and can churn out as many as 100 pizzas an hour at 90 seconds a pop.
The units range from $15,000 for a basic model to $125,000 for a deluxe mobile kitchen. "It all depends on the features you want to buy," explains Dharma of the range.
Dharma sold his first post-EDS business, a Tilden Car Care Center franchise, in 2013, in part due to its inflexible nature. That led him to an idea for a different business model. "I wanted to find something really meaningful," he says of buying Fire Within. He calls it an "anti-franchise."
To this end, the company extensively supports its customers but charges no franchise fees. "I want to make sure we get our message right," says Dharma. "It should be about freedom. No matter where you are in your business model, we will support you."
"When somebody buys an oven, I want them to pay for it in the first year," he adds. "I want to make sure my commitment stays true by giving them every opportunity to succeed."
Challenges: Retooling the company since acquisition. Opening an office in Denver's Highland neighborhood "was a shock to everybody," Dharma says. He's since gotten an automotive dealer license -- a "long and arduous process" -- so it can sell to customers directly and brought in new talent to help take Fire Within to the next level in terms of community outreach, operations, and warranty and repairs.
"Another challenge is the health department," he adds.
Opportunities: Dharma points to golf courses, wineries, brewpubs, nonprofits, and restaurants with maxed-out kitchens as potential customers. "They don't have the real estate to build a pizza oven," he says of the last market. "It's a good approach for them to pull it next to the restaurant."
Developing countries represent a different kind of opportunity for Fire Within. Dharma says there's more to this strategy than pure profits. "I'm originally from a Third World country so I know the troubles," says the Sri Lanka native. "This could be heaven sent, especially for women. Plus they love pizza all over the world."
Needs: "We need to document our processes so every oven comes out the same," says Dharma.