COEUR d'ALENE - Jim Hightower has been in the pizza business for more than 30 years, the last 18 with Domino's.
In his career, he has sent thousands upon thousands of pizzas out the door, carryout or delivery.
Today, he operates stores in Coeur d'Alene, Hayden, Rathdrum and Post Falls, and has 75 employees.
This week, perhaps more than any other in his time producing hot pies, he is fired up. He was grinning Thursday, excited at what's here.
Handmade pan pizza.
"Quite honestly, it's the best pizza I've ever eaten," he said as he stood in the kitchen area of his Neider Avenue store.
On Monday, Domino's unveiled its latest offering it said was three years in the making. Employees were trained, ovens were cleaned and calibrated, to be certain it's perfect, every time.
Hightower beams with confidence when he says it will be a top seller.
So far, it is.
"Fabulous," he said. "It's already taken off."
He estimated that about 25 percent of pizzas sold in the U.S. are pan pizzas. Domino's primary entry in that market has been its deep dish pizza.
"We have never really had a pan pizza," he said.
But it was a taste test years back that got the attention of Domino's executives.
Folks were asked to rate Domino's deep dish with the offerings of others, like Pizza Hut. Here, Hightower said, is what they basically said about Domino's: "You guys suck."
"Well, we said, 'You're probably right.'"
The result, three years in the works, is the handmade pan pizza.
Hightower and other Domino's store owners were told about it six months ago. The message from corporate, "We're not going to release it until it's perfect."
This week, they reached that point.
The new pizza has fresh dough, thicker crust, more cheese, toppings spread to the edge of the pan and just a bit of oil in the bottom. Each, Hightower said, is handmade.
It rolls slowly through the oven, set at 510 degrees, in seven minutes. The other pizzas - artisan, thin crust and hand-tossed - go through another oven for 6 and a half minutes set at 505 degrees.
For now, it's available only in medium.
"It is just a fabulous product," Hightower said. "I think this is the best promotion in the history of Domino's Pizza."
So strongly does he believe in this handmade pan pizza, Hightower said it could lead to additional Domino's in the area.
"Especially now, with this product. We think there's an opportunity for expansion," he said.