• New CiCi's Pizza owners envision 2,000 restaurants on the horizon

COPPELL, Texas--The new owners of CiCi's Pizza believe they can grow the 470 restaurant buffet chain to more than 2,000 units.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Craig Moore is the company's president and one of four new majority owners, all of whom are longtime company executives. They bought CiCi Enterprises Inc. from founder Joe Croce last fall.

Moore and company face a daunting challenge in reaching their goal; competition in the pizza industry is stiffer than day-old crust.

"My role is to take it from the 400-plus stores where Joe left it to 1,000 stores, then 2,000 stores," Moore said. "We think we can get it to 2,000, but for now, it's how do we get it to 1,000?"

Long-term commitments from well-financed franchise owners will drive the expansion.

Paul Kolander, owns seven Dallas-area CiCi's restaurants and has two more under construction. In the longer term, he's working on opening 26 stores in the St. Louis market and 34 in the Pittsburgh area, the first of which opened Monday.

Norm Winton, another longtime CiCi's franchisee, has 19 stores in six markets through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. He has committed to opening 85 restaurants in Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Alan Huston Pat Williamson, both former Pizza Hut executives, along with partner Larry Zwain (formerly of Boston Market), have committed to opening 100 stores in Colorado.

It costs as much as $430,000 to open a CiCi's, including a $30,000 franchise fee. The fee drops to $15,000 for subsequent openings. Average annual sales per store is about $940,000, but company-owned stores, of which there are 24, generally exceed $1 million a year.

Williamson said he and his partners considered franchising 25 different restaurant concepts before settling on CiCi's. In making their decision, they asked themselves: Can the management team grow the company? Is there a strong foundation? Is the restaurant economically viable?

"It's not just about the chairman or the president," Williamson said. "What about the lieutenants? The CFO? The distribution? The marketing?

"One of the things Joe was best at was surrounding himself with great people, and that made it easy for him to walk away because he had such a good group of people under him."

From 1998 to 2002, CiCi's grew from 280 to 417 restaurants, a 10.5 percent compounded annual growth and more than three times the industry average.

Impressive as that is, Ron Paul, president of restaurant research firm Technomic, said, ""They've got a long way to go. There are a ton of regional and local players we think are impeding the growth of major chains."

Read related CiCi's articles here.

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