A look at the growing tapas trend demonstrates how Americans like little tastes of lots of foods. Pizza Hut's hot-selling 4forALL pie is even more edible proof.

Operators seeking to tap this trend without rolling out a new menu should consider adding appetizers. It's working at Ameci Pizza & Pasta in Canoga Park, Calif.


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"We have a lot of ladies who come in for lunch, but who don't want pizza," said Maria Falato, director of franchise operations for the 40-unit chain. "We see them ordering an appetizer and a salad to have a complete meal."

For a while now the company has served fried wings and fried mozzarella sticks. Now it's adding Chickadillas, chicken breast strips blended with American cheese and a hint of jalapeno, and coated with crushed tortilla-style breading.

The fully cooked product is made by La Nova Wings, a firm that's no stranger to pizzeria appetizers. Falato first tasted Chickadillas when La Nova introduced them in March at the 2004 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.

According to La Nova executive vice president Michael Dentico, the strong reception Chickadillas received there convinced him it was a winner.

"They also sold well in our pizzerias, which is a great testing ground," said Dentico, referring to the company's two units. "They're different, not just a 'me-too' item."

Taste harmonies

Though the Chickadilla's Latin flavors and textures are uncommon in pizzerias, Dentico said the item pairs well with pizza and engages American's growing appetite for Hispanic foods.

"It's a well-accepted flavor profile anywhere in the country," he said. "If you're looking for some new ideas, this will work well."

In early July, Ameci rolled out a $4.99 five-piece Chickadilla appetizer served with a choice of creamy Italian dressing or marinara sauce. Dentico said the food cost for a four-strip portion sold at $3.99 is "very good. You could even add fries, sell it for $4.99 and give a good value."

Just as wings appeal to lots of people, Falato expects a wide audience will like Chickadillas. But will her Hispanic customers dig in?

"I would say yes," she said. "We have Latin customers who already like our Buffalo wings, which are spicy, and the Chickadilla is spicy enough to appeal to them. But it's not extremely spicy, not out of control."

About 10 percent of Ameci's sales mix is made up of appetizers, but Falato expects Chickadillas will increase that number. Her staff works hard on upselling appetizers to phone and dine-in customers, but sometimes even if they don't buy, she'll throw an order in for good measure. "That way, when they try it, we hope they'll get hooked."

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