Iowa Restaurant Pros Bring Grimaldi’s Pizzeria to New Market | Franchise Development


After launching its franchise system with a unit in Alabama, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria has turned to the Midwest for the next phase of its growth strategy.

Founded in 1990, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria is known for its pies made in coal-fired brick ovens. The brand has 41 company-owned stores in 11 states and now, with its new franchise program, has one owner operating a unit in Huntsville, Alabama.

Last month, continuing its expansion, the brand signed a five-unit agreement for the state of Iowa with Doughtime Pizza Co., a business helmed by a pair of restaurant industry professionals. One of the leaders is Tom Baldwin, who heads up Dark Side of the Spoon Hospitality Group.

Before starting Dark Side, which has 24 locations in Iowa across multiple pub and tavern concepts, Baldwin was a franchisor. He founded the delivery chain Home Team Pizza in 1987, and later sold it in 1999.

His partner in this recent endeavor is Erich Moxley, whose experience in the industry includes a stint at Taco Bell corporate and at Diversified Restaurant Group, a large Taco Bell operator where he oversaw more than 200 units.


Grimaldi’s Pizza restaurants will open in Iowa markets, bringing authentic New York slices to the Midwest.

While the Grimaldi’s deal was recently signed, the concept had been on Baldwin’s radar for more than a decade. In 2009, Baldwin and his family were in New York City and looking for the best pizza. Grimaldi’s, in Brooklyn, was the most well regarded, and when they arrived, there were nearly 50 people waiting in line.

“I had what was the best pizza I’d ever had in my life,” Baldwin said. “I was in love with the product right then and there, and it stuck with me. But they weren’t franchising at the time.”

Baldwin returned to Grimaldi’s a few more times, but the company still wasn’t franchising. That changed a few years ago when, in 2019 it established a franchise program. It was quickly put on hold, however, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When it started to clear out, the inquiries from restaurant groups began to come in, and there was a lot of interest in our brand,” Grimaldi’s COO Michael Flaum said.

One of those inquiries was from Baldwin. “I was filled with anxiousness, hoping that all the franchises weren’t already spoken for,” he said. “People would be crazy to wait on this one because it’s so good.”


Michael Flaum

After deciding to go ahead with Grimaldi’s, Baldwin brought Moxley on board and began evaluating potential locations. “Michael asked me to identify some markets I’d be interested in,” Baldwin said. “Iowa was the first territory that we talked about, and five was a good place to start, with three in the Des Moines market, and two more in eastern Iowa.”

Because Grimaldi’s will be completely new to Iowa, Baldwin said they will be relying on the marketing strategies from the brand, and they’ve hired a social media manager to help promote the product.

For Flaum, Baldwin represents the ideal franchise candidate for Grimaldi’s expansion.

“They have the business acumen and previous management experience,” Flaum said. “They excel at that and are super operators who are system oriented. They have a drive for operational excellence and a memorable guest experience. We visited their restaurants and saw that happening.”

Grimaldi’s will be looking for more franchisees that meet the criteria in new markets, while backfilling existing areas with more company-owned units.

“We’ll entertain company-owned stores in new markets,” Flaum said. “However, we feel we’re best positioned to achieve our strategic objectives by creating company stores in states we’re in, and offering development agreements to qualified franchise groups in the states we’re not in.”

Those franchisees, Flaum said, will in most cases be those who already have a portfolio of other restaurants.

“We’re looking for those who have something other than pizza and want to add on, because they have the infrastructure, like Tom does, in an area,” Flaum said. “It’s going to catch on fast, and with good operators, they’ll deliver what the guest is looking for, which is a good experience.”

To assist in finding those new owners, the brand hired Howard Barish as senior director of franchise development and project development. Barish brings more than 30 years of experience as an owner, operator and a multi-unit licensee.

In the case of the Iowa owners, Baldwin said the first two leases are expected to be finalized in the next month, and at least one restaurant will be open by the end of 2023. All five are expected to open by 2025.


Emerging brand Serotonin Centers has a new agreement to expand in Florida with 10 units.


Skincare brand and hair removal concept Sugar Sugar inked a 20-unit area development agreement with Patrick and Lynette Meglio, who plan to open the locations along Florida’s East Coast from Miami to Cape Canaveral. Patrick’s experience as a franchisee and franchisor spans 35 years and he has a national multi-unit and multi-brand portfolio in restaurants, hair salons and family entertainment centers. Lynette spent 25 years in corporate America at MTV, AOL and Time Warner.

Serotonin Centers is expanding in southwest Florida with 10 new units through a new agreement with the husband-and-wife team of Charles and Trudy Fehlinger. Launched in 2021 by the founder of Retro Fitness, Serotonin Centers is an emerging brand with one location open, in Windermere, Florida.

The DripBar, an IV vitamin therapy concept, signed an area representative agreement with a pair of Michaels. Business partners Michael Reyes and Michael Usiak signed the deal and plan to open 10 units across Connecticut. Established in 2016, The DripBar started franchising in 2019 and has more than 40 locations in operation.


Menu items from the chicken brand Rise.

Pet care brand Dogdrop inked a deal for five units in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with Miguel Angel Chuquichanca. With a background in consulting, Chuquichanca is set to have five locations open within six years. Based in Los Angeles, Dogdrop is a venture-backed start-up brand.

Twin Peaks signed an area development agreement with an existing franchisee to continue expanding in Florida. Ricky Warman, who owns three locations in Orlando, signed on to open four more. In addition to Orlando, Warman also signed a previous agreement for three locations on Florida’s East Coast.

Perspire Sauna Studio is breaking into the Las Vegas market thanks to a three-unit deal with entrepreneur Jeff Na. Bringing experience from a career in the health and wellness space, Na is set to open the first of the three units in March. Established in 2010, California-based Perspire has 30 units open today.

Five-unit wellness brand Upgrade Labs signed a three-store agreement with David Hair for the Charlotte, North Carolina market. The agreement marks the brand’s first multi-unit deal. Also a naval officer and aviator, Hair is co-founder and CEO of nGroup Performance Partners, which provides staffing and training services to manufacturing and distribution companies. Like Upgrade Labs founder Dave Asprey, he considers himself a longtime biohacker.

RNR Tire Express inked a three-unit deal for the Chicago area with John Abraham, a new franchisee who has a background in the healthcare industry. Abraham’s first unit is anticipated to open this fall. Founded in 2000, RNR has 173 locations in 27 states.


Sugar Sugar founder Aimee Blake shows off some sugaring product.

PayMore, an electronics resale brand, recently signed several multi-unit deals in Atlanta, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Phoenix. In Atlanta, PayMore inked a three-unit deal with franchisees and brothers Salim and Amir Kaba, who bring previous retail experience. For New Jersey and Massachusetts, a business group purchased the rights to open six units across the two states. Entrepreneur John Neilas also signed a deal with PayMore to open five locations.

Brooklyn Dumpling Shop inked a three-unit agreement for the city of Philadelphia with a trio of new franchisees. Alex Flack, Nick Sordoni and Stephen Hudacek bring experience in software, real estate and business operation, and are expected to open the new Philadelphia locations by the end of 2023.

Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken inked a deal to expand in San Diego with Jason Kasid, who has operated a family convenience store for more than 25 years. Kasid is planning to open five locations. Rise has 17 units in seven states.

The Little Gym, a children’s gym and enrichment concept in the Unleashed Brands portfolio, signed a three-unit agreement with John and Dena Murphy for the Tampa Bay area. The Murphys are also franchisees of another concept, operating several Christian Brothers Automotive locations in Florida. The Little Gym has nearly 400 locations in total across 31 countries.

The Wire is the place to find news of multi-unit development agreements, brought to you by Senior Writer Matthew Liedke. Want more? Sign up for the e-newsletter at To share your brand’s multi-unit deals, email details to [email protected]