The Hot Cuban Pizza: The Mavs' Owner Is Putting His Money Where Our Mouths Are

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In less than a month, the impact of Mark Cuban's personal "Stimulus Plan" has already become quite real for a small group of entrepreneurs around the country. Naked Pizza, an all-natural pizza delivery place in New Orleans, was listed on Cuban's blog earlier this week as one of the first funding recipients. And just yesterday, while the Dallas Mavericks' owner was in New Orleans for his team's game against the Hornets, the owners of Naked Pizza met with him for three hours -- enough time for Cuban to devour not one or two but eight slices of pie.

Naked Pizza cofounder Randy Crochet, who launched the store in 2006 and put two years into perfecting the dough -- which contains probiotics, 10 difference types of whole grains, no sugar and low sodium -- never imagined he'd be doing business with the likes of Cuban. He tells Unfair Park he was shocked to get a speedy response to his proposal two weeks ago, as more than 1,000 ideas were pouring into Cuban's in-box.

"We posted it, and he responded within an hour," Crochet says. "We were stunned."

So, what will this mean for Naked Pizza?
Unfair Park spoke to Crochet late yesterday, and he was still breathless from the lengthy meeting during which he and Cuban discussed plans for expanding the delivery business to 1,000 stores nationwide.

"In New Orleans, it's not a very active environment for healthy business models," he says. "So you take someone like Mark, and he has the vision and the context to understand what we want to do on a larger scale."

Crochet heard about Cuban's funding project from a friend, and the initial positive response to his pitch kicked off a flurry of e-mail exchanges. "We e-mailed for three days day and night," Crochet says. "We'd get e-mails from him at 3 in the morning."

Crochet, who's not disclosing the amount of money Cuban is investing, says he expects to have the deal finalized next week. For his part, when reached by Unfair Park, Cuban said he'd save his comments for his own blog.

"What we want to do is create the next big pizza delivery chain," Crochet says, explaining that they opted against opening a restaurant because, this way, their only competition are other non-healthy pizza delivery shops such as Domino's (though Dallas-based PIzza Hut does offer its Natural Pizza).

"We're trying to make pizza part of the solution, not part of the problem in the national obesity epidemic," he says. "It's time for the fast-food industry to step up to the plate, and we're going to show that it makes good business sense to do it."

Crochet insists his Naked Pizza has half the calories, half the fat and four to fives times the dietary fiber as most pizza on the market. And as far as he knows, it's the only delivery pizza in the world that contains probiotics, the bacteria that contributes to intestinal health (Naked Pizza uses a special heat-resistant strain of probiotics that survives the oven). "Basically," he insists, "our pizza will improve your health and well-being."

They'll likely begin the expansion by the end of the year, though Crochet says they'll be working with Cuban to hammer out the exact plan over the coming months. They plan to open one here in Dallas, and one hallmark Crochet hopes to have in all the shops is reduction of their carbon footprint, including a rooftop garden to grow the vegetables they put on the pizza.

"We're trying to get people to understand that we [restaurants and businesses] have to change our relationship with our community," Crochet says. "And we want to be leaders in that."
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