ANKENY, Iowa—Farrokh Larijani is Casey’s new senior manager of culinary innovation, a title not typically associated with gas station pizza. Recently, he spoke to TheTakeOut.com about how a convenience retailer became the nation’s fifth-largest pizza chain.
“When I found out about Casey’s and the volume they handle, I was living just nine hours away and had never heard of Casey’s,” Larijani told The TakeOut. “The more I looked into the culture of the company and what they do, it was really eye-opening. And then I found out about the number of pizzas [Casey’s goes] through: 30 million pies on an annual basis. That’s nothing to joke about.”
To keep customers coming back for Casey’s foodservice offerings, “I always try to look at it as one independent restaurant, or one store. Because if I get to thinking, ‘this scale is just too big,’ that’s going to stifle innovation,” he said.
When checking out new recipes, Casey’s brings field trainers into the lab to connect with the operators, and once the culinary team knows what to do, the process can be spread across 2,200 stores. The culinary team typically works six to seven months ahead of a product rollout and conducts numerous taste tests before any new food item makes it onto a menu board.
To change consumers’ opinions about “gas station food,” Casey’s gets them in the door and gets them to try the pizza.
“If you look at a pizza, even starting with the dough itself, it’s such a blank canvas, and you can paint it any way you like,” Larijani told The TakeOut. “The quality of the canvas is the crust; that is the most important thing. The rest of it comes down to proper measurements of water, but it’s ultimately about those quality ingredients. You can do whatever you want with that.”
Larijani looks forward to the next chapter for Casey’s foodservice. “We already have our go-tos, our favorites and our classics. Now it’s about the exploration: What else can we introduce to our guests that we haven’t thought about yet?” he said.
Casey’s has 2,200 locations in 16 states, serving 30 million whole pies and 63 million slices annually.