Grab a slice! Purpose-driven pizza in Portland

Can you have too much of a good thing? Not when it comes to pizza, and especially when it comes from Flatbread Pizza Company.

Prayer flags and the “Think good thoughts” slogan at the wood-fired clay oven at the Portland Flatbread Pizza Company.

Flatbread’s is famous for its delicious, all-natural , wood fired, clay oven baked pizza. The crust is just the right combination of chewy, salty and sweet. The organic ingredients are always locally sourced, making for an eclectic selection of daily specials that when I visited last week included potato (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it), leeks and fancy mushrooms. The salads in Portland are made with local greens sourced from farms in Yarmouth and Durham.

But beyond keeping a consistent food product, fundamental to knowing you’re in a Flatbread’s is the tone and feel of each restaurant, whether you’re in Portland or Portsmouth, North Conway or Martha’s Vineyard. The restaurant has managed to authentically blend its own brand of earthiness and pursuit of peace with the local community. Each has a primitive clay and stone oven. Each displays local art. As they proclaim in the company mission, “we have found the choices we make have a profound effect on creating the Flatbread experience.” Choices like ingredients, staff and locations.

So true. During the summer in Portland it is sublime to enjoy pizza and wine on the sunny deck extending into Portland Harbor at the ferry dock. Last week during dinner we were treated to the departure of an enormous cruise ship, navigating its way through the narrow channel. In the winter guests vie to sit on the sofas near the bar for a relaxed meal. All the while you sit under prayer flags, peruse menus decorated by children’s drawings and consider chemical free food. The place just oozes slow food, local and community – a special elixir for any company.

So it may come as no surprise that success – read: growth – threatens the very nature of Flatbreads. How can the Flatbreads mission continue rolling across the country without evolving into a cliché, big-box, industrial institution that is against the very core of the brand? Indeed. The Company has a statement hanging from a flag over the bar in Portland that addresses this head on. It reads:

“Flatbread Company is growing. Are more restaurants bad? Not if we follow our purpose. Groups in nature have a purpose. One hundred apples on a tree. A thousand fish in a school. Ten thousand bees in a colony. One hundred geese flying. Like in nature our purpose is who we are. It gives us direction and makes the many of us One.”

What does that hippy crunchy statement mean? I think it means they will rely on their people, staff and customers. Flatbreads already practices this philosophy. The General Managers are all local, invested in the community and believers in the ultimate mission, cultivating its success. Portland’s Bobby Morgan is a familiar face, always on the scene and always committed to a great shared experience no matter how long the line to get a table. He’s in the trenches, bussing tables, chit chatting with customers and keeping an eye out for what can be better. He supports the community- in fact, the reason I was there on a Tuesday night was to support a benefit for Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, where a portion of the night’s sales were donated.

For Flatbread’s to pull off an expansion without “selling out” will be the “lead by example” attitude of its own internal community, who will be charged with keeping true to the product, making sure the pizza stays delicious without compromising. That’s the Flatbread’s recipe for authenticity. “Think good thoughts” that they succeed.

christengraham

About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.