• Boston Pizza eyes 7 new N.W. U.S. sites

PORTLAND, Ore.--Boston's The Gourmet Pizza wants to open seven restaurants in the next six years in Washington and Oregon.

According to the Portland Business Journal, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based chain, which has about 150 stores in Canada and 15 in the southwestern U.S., wants the new stores close to Portland. Joseph and Karen Loftgren of Vancouver, Wash., are negotiating development rights for all of Oregon.

A blend of casual dining and sports bar concepts, Boston's The Gourmet Pizza units average nearly $3 million in annual sales.

"Our goal is to be the predominant casual dining restaurant in the U.S.," said Howard Terry, vice president of marketing for Boston Pizza Restaurants LP, the Dallas-based American subsidiary.

According to the Journal, the chain's customers typically are 25 to 49 years old and spend $9 to $12 per person.

The Loftgrens said potential vendors call them, saying, "I heard you're opening a pizza joint," but Terry calls the concept unlike any other on the American landscape.

Boston's menu has 160 items, about half of them pizza and pasta, and the other half ribs, steak, salads and sandwiches. It targets three kinds of crowds--the business-lunch crowd, the early evening family diners, and the sports-bar-oriented, later evening crowd.

Unlike other casual dining restaurants, the bar and family dining areas are entirely separate, "almost like having two different restaurants," Joseph Loftgren said.

"Calling it 'the gourmet pizza' is our greatest challenge, in terms of customer education," Terry added. "The hardest part is getting the initial visit; that's our limiting factor and it's why we try to do a lot of buzz-generating P.R. But when customers walk in the store, there's a huge wow-factor."

The Loftgrens first approached Rock Bottom Restaurants about franchising its Old Chicago pizza and brewery concept, but they couldn't arrive at a deal. Boston's proved to be the right fit, they said, because the territory was right in their back yard and they liked the restaurant/sports bar concept.

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