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Delivering the Law for Pizza Chain

September 25, 2009

  • Victoria Blackwell J.D. '92

The aroma of fresh grilled pizza wafted up from the test kitchen to the corporate offices at Papa Murphy’s International headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. Enticed by the scent of her personal favorite–Chicken, Bacon, and Artichoke deLITE–Victoria Blackwell headed down for a snack.

“We have pizzas cooking here almost every afternoon around 2 p.m., not long after lunch, and they still manage to disappear in record time,” she says. “Did you know you can trademark a smell? We’ve got a new idea brewing along those lines.”

Blackwell is general counsel for Papa Murphy’s, the country’s fifth-largest pizza chain and pioneer of take-and-bake products made fresh daily, including an expanding array of specialty pizzas, calzones, cheesy bread, lasagna, chocolate chip cookie dough, and salads. In a customer survey published by Restaurants and Institutions, Papa Murphy’s has been voted the “Best Pizza Chain in America” for six straight years.

Since joining the company in 2000, Blackwell has helped the chain expand from 343 to 1,130 stores located in 32 states and Canada. In 2008, the company reported an impressive $585 million in systemwide sales.

“We’re very proud of our business ethic and the transparency with which we operate,” she says. “We’re committed to helping our franchisees make money. If they don’t succeed, we don’t succeed.”

Through education, negotiation, and a wide-open-door policy, Blackwell has established the benefits of a corporate brand and trademark protections that complement the mom-and-pop flavor of neighborhood stores, where owners know their customers by name and can tailor local promotions to fit their needs.

Quality, value, and affordability, she says, allow the company to prosper even during the recession. Since stores offer no cooked products or delivery service, they occupy a relatively small footprint and keep costs under control.

“People can buy a 16-inch family-sized pizza for around $12,” says Blackwell. “Plus, we’ve recently seen a big uptick in EBT [electronic food stamp] sales. We’re the only chain to offer that option.”

Prior to joining Papa Murphy’s, Blackwell worked at Southern Oregon Public Defenders, where she gained valuable trial experience. She was also in private practice at Lane & Marshall and her own solo firm before joining KinderCare Learning Centers in Portland.

At Papa Murphy’s, Blackwell has worked hard to earn the respect of the company founders and management team as well as the trust of franchisees. Like a store employee who coined the company’s catchphrase, “We can do that,” Blackwell helps her colleagues navigate the legal landscape to launch new business initiatives.

“Over the years, I’ve learned to process information quickly, evaluate the pros and cons, make reasonable business judgments, and articulate them effectively,” she says. “That’s what people expect from a lawyer.” 

–by Pattie Pace


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