PLANO, TEXAS – As the fast-casual pizza market heats up, Pizza Hut is hankering for a bigger piece of the pie with a new concept. The chain, a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., is testing by-the-slice service in two locations.

At $2 to $3 a slice, the pizzas feature new recipes and are cooked in new deck ovens.

A test location in York, Neb., will include sautéed pasta and made-to-order salad stations, as well as an open-seating environment, a departure from the company’s traditional dine-in stores. A test location in Pawtucket, R.I., was designed primarily for delivery and carryout, with a smaller open-seating area. The new fast-casual locations will feature digital menu boards, by-the-slice bars and new ingredients to offer a greater variety of combinations.

“We believe these concepts have broad appeal, and we're bullish on our plans to quickly expand them to additional locations,” said Al Litchenburg, chief development officer, Pizza Hut. “We are a company driven to innovate and give customers what they want and a vibrant store experience is atop that list.”

With more fast-casual pizza formats bubbling up recently, such players as Chipotle Mexican Grill and California Pizza Kitchen are tossing new concepts in the ring. In December, Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield, who launched California Pizza Kitchen in 1985, revealed plans to introduce a new fast-casual pizza concept as part of their recently founded investment portfolio, Flax and Rosenfield Capital Partners. Also in December, Chipotle announced a partnership to develop a fast-casual pizza chain called Pizzeria Locale, based on a full-service restaurant of the same name in Boulder, Colo.

In October, food court pizza chain Sbarro debuted its first fast-casual concept with Pizza Cucinova in Columbus, Ohio. Heralding a Naples-inspired artisan approach to hand-crafted and wood-fired pies, the restaurant’s menu features such varieties as fennel sausage with fire-roasted broccolini, clam and shrimp, and steak and gorgonzola cheese.  

Pizza Hut’s by-the-slice concept is not Yum!’s first effort at reinvention. In August, the company began testing KFC Eleven, an upmarket version of its fast-food chicken chain, with a menu of updated side dishes, salads, rice bowls, flatbread sandwiches and only boneless pieces of Original Recipe chicken.