Uno Pizzeria & Grill is obviously known for its deep-dish pizza, and it has long offered a super-thin flatbread alternative. But the West Roxbury-based company was missing a middle ground between the two. That’s why chief executive Louie Psallidas (right) pushed his culinary team to come up with a more traditional kind of pizza, a pie the chain is calling Chicago Thin Crust.
To pull it off, there were some tense times with executive chef Andre Fuehr at the company’s test kitchen in Norwood. “It’s as close as I’ve gotten to getting stabbed by a chef,” Psallidas jokes.
This is, by far, the biggest product launch during Psallidas’s tenure as CEO. He was promoted from chief financial officer to the top job in the fall of 2014. Prior to joining Uno in 2008, Psallidas was CFO at rival chain Papa Gino’s, in Dedham.
Uno just embarked on an ad campaign to promote the thin-crust pie, which started showing up in restaurants in June. The catch phrase: “Come get thin with us.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest may take issue with that slogan. Earlier in August, the Washington-based nonprofit named Uno and several other chains in its latest round of “Xtreme Eating Awards.” Uno’s sin? The Whole Hog Burger. Launched in February, this calorie-bomb of a meal features more than 1 pound of meats and four cheeses, prompting the group to say: “You might as well eat four McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese and two medium fries doused with 18 packets of salt.”
Uno tried to turn the award to its advantage, mischievously suggesting the Whole Hog was designed with rankings like that in mind. Psallidas says the goal of the big burger was to offer customers one more fun option — not necessarily a healthy one: “We don’t create food to make favor with the food police.”
— JON CHESTO
A million reasons to do good
One million dollars in seed funding is pretty enticing to a startup, and even more so if it’s a student-run venture.
That’s why the Cambridge-based Hult Prize attracts so much interest: This year, it got a record 25,000 applicants. Teams of college and graduate students from around the world compete for the $1 million award, given annually to a business idea that accomplishes a social good.
Funded by the family of Bertil Hult, founder of EF Education First, the prize aims to encourage entrepreneurs who want to both make money and improve the world. For example, the 2015 prize winner, a group of Taiwanese students, developed a day-care system for communities in developing countries.
So far, this year’s field has been narrowed to six teams of finalists, who’ve spent the summer in Boston practicing their pitches, learning the ropes of starting a new business, and being mentored by veteran entrepreneurs.
All along, the competitors received help from more than a dozen Boston-area companies and organizations. A sampling: Mintz Levin provided legal support. Commoncove, District Hall, Google, MassChallenge, and WeWork hosted weekly pitching events. Arc Finance and Nomad ran workshops on financial modeling. Professors from Harvard, MIT, and Northeastern also provided guidance.
The Boston training ends Friday, and the final competition will be held Sept. 20 in New York City at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, where Bill Clinton himself will announce the winner.
The big finale, which will be live-streamed, occasionally features unexpected drama. Case in point: two years ago, one competitor fainted during his team’s pitch.
“It’s a high-stakes, high-intensity moment, and sometimes, despite all the preparation, we have seen people freeze up,” said Adam Bickelman of EF Education First, an international company that offers language learning, educational travel, and cultural exchange programs. “Sometimes they pull it together. Sometimes they pass out.”
The fainter’s team — a group of students from India — rallied and won the prize. Their innovation? An inexpensive machine, called “Dox-in-Box,” that provides simple medical care for people in urban slums with diabetes and hypertension.
— SACHA PFEIFFER