Locally based HotBox Pizza plans to introduce its pies to a nationwide audience. The pizza chain won regulatory approval last week to begin selling franchises in Indiana, Michigan and Texas. The chain is waiting on approvals from Illinois and Wisconsin, and also plans to sell franchises in Ohio. Owner Gabe Connell says the goal is to open up to 10 locations in the next 18 months, many of them in Indiana. He’s looking at Carmel, Avon, Brownsburg, Noblesville and Greenwood. HotBox already has stores in Broad Ripple, downtown Indianapolis, Fishers and West Lafayette.
The chain has hired Illinois-based franchise development firm Francorp Inc. to assist in the launch. Francorp, which also advised Jimmy John’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, believes HotBox could grow to more than 100 locations, Connell said. But the chain isn’t in a hurry: Connell wants “slow and calculated growth” focused on training and careful selection of franchisees. He hopes to carve out a niche between gourmet, sit-down pizza shops and the big chains, doing for pizza what Chipotle did for Mexican food. The local HotBox restaurants originally opened as part of Bloomington’s Pizza Express chain, but a legal fight led to the spinoff of HotBox three years ago. HotBox joins a crowded field that includes other pizza franchises with Hoosier roots: Noble Roman’s is based here, and Louisville-based Papa John’s was founded by Ball State University alum John Schnatter.