Mark Cuban Sells His Slice of Naked Pizza

Naked Pizza, a health-centric pizza company born in a city known for fried seafood and gumbo, was founded with a mission to disrupt the $30 billion dollar pizza industry. The original location on S. Miro Street in New Orleans opened in 2007. All 496 square feet of it is still open today.

Photo by Humid Beings.

Photo by Humid Beings.

Years after founding the company, the owners successfully pitched their “billion dollar business model” to a billionaire himself, Mark Cuban.

From the beginning, Naked Pizza wanted to be on the forefront of the entrepreneurial movement in New Orleans, stimulating the economy through job growth and more.

Naked Pizza Co-founder and former CEO Robbie Vitrano said the company was created to make great tasting, healthy pizza that helped people instead of harmed them. He was brought on by founding partners Randy Crochet and Jeff Leach to help with branding back when the company was still called “World’s Healthiest Pizza.”

Vitrano was once quoted about the rise of Naked Pizza as an international force “engaging people up and down the food supply…It’s mind blowing to consider that via a platform of pizza, we’re collaborating with some of the most important minds in health, nutrition, business and technology.”

The founders had an appealing business model from the start and serial entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban took notice.

After three months of finalizing, Cuban had invested in Naked Pizza through the Mark Cuban Stimulus Plan, which was open source funding for companies that needed an extra push to become cash flow positive within 90 days, among other criteria.

Cuban received 2,155 comments on his blog post announcing the plan, mainly from people pitching their businesses to him. One of those comments was Naked Pizza’s pitch for a $40,000 investment:

Crochet and Leach admit to making a lot mistakes after the first two years, which they viewed as an important part of the process. It was also the perfect time for Cuban to invest. With the deal — the first investment Cuban provided through the Stimulus Plan– Cuban gained the rights to develop the brand in Texas.

In 2010, the company had plans to open 1,000 stores by 2015, but locations started closing faster than new ones could open. The healthy pizza company grew too big too fast and eventually closed over 15 locations. Over the last year, a few additional franchise locations closed, bringing the current number of stores in the United States to 11 and six internationally.

Cuban said, “I loved the product and the passion, knowledge, and conviction of the founders.” But there was trouble in paradise. From the beginning, Mark Cuban Companies knew that many of the inner-workings of the company didn’t make sense. There were issues with the supply chain, cost of goods and everything in between.

Mark Cuban spent the last year and a half working to fix what was broken, through a change in ownership and operations, but is ready to move on. Roughly two weeks ago, Cuban sold his shares in Naked Pizza to the owners of the franchise in Washington, D.C.

According to a source close to Cuban, the new majority owners chose an amazing time to get involved on a larger scale. They finally agreed to a price point that Cuban was interested in. “They put a lot into the system and they’ve wanted this for a long time…they can carry the torch to the next level,” because of the “heavy lifting Mark Cuban Companies did to fix things.”

Michael Johnstone, a technology consultant at Mark Cuban Companies and former Director of Operations and Marketing at Naked Pizza, said, “We’re very happy to have been part of Naked Pizza and New Orleans.”

Speculation began earlier this year that the company was ready for an exit. Now that it’s final, it’s up to Cuban’s successors to inject new life back into the company.