Eagle Boys Pizza has its sights set on customers with a need for speed, and it aims to grab them with its Eagle Express "two-minutes or it's free" carryout service.
Tom Potter, founder and managing partner of the 120-store Brisbane, Australia, chain claims no other pizza company in the world has such a system.
Eagle Boys Pizza ad.
"It's an electronic system that basically cooks the product at an extremely low rate, like 1 percent every five minutes," said Potter, describing the 20-shelf, see-through pizza holding cabinets custom built for the chain. No alterations at the oven are required as the pizza is cooked as usual. According to Potter, however, once the pizza is placed in the cabinet, its usual loss of residual heat is slowed dramatically. "You basically fool the product into thinking it's still baking at an extremely slow rate."
It's taken Eagle Boys four years to perfect the Express system; Potter said previous holding cabinets he auditioned only served to heat the pizza boxes, and none managed to maintain product integrity as well as the current ones.
Potter declined to identify the builder of his company's holding boxes, saying only that the firm was an Australian electronics manufacturer. "And don't even ask me how much we spent on all that," he added, laughing.
Once cooked, the pizzas are cut and boxed and held at 170-195 F (77 to 90 C). Potter said that, ideally, fresh pizzas are placed in the holding box every eight minutes during peak times, and that turnover should max out at 15 minutes. Pizzas 30 minutes or older are thrown out, though he said they're still quite acceptable at 40 minutes.
Drive-through windows installed at three Eagle Boys stores have proven crucial to service speed. Seven new stores with built-in drive-through windows are under construction.
"Waiting 30 minutes for takeaway is like waiting 30 minutes with a screaming kid."
Interestingly, Potter said drive-through customers have an intuitive understanding of pulling up to a window and getting food quickly, but some walk-in customers remain a bit befuddled that they can enjoy the same advantages at the counter.
"They're unsure how to walk in, order a pizza and be out in two minutes," he said. "Half of the customers walk in and take you at face value when you tell them, and the other half are wondering if you've got the pizza in a bain-marie (steam table) somewhere."
The two-minute guarantee is good for large pizzas only, which cost AUS $6.95 -- a mere $3.95 U.S. Potter claimed that's the going rate in the competitive pizza market down under, and on par with burger and chicken offerings. The beef and bird customers, Potter added, are patrons Eagle Boys wants to sink its talons into.
"We want to take share from the burger guys and KFC," said Potter. "In the Australian fast-food market, Eagle Boys holds about 5 percent, and we want to push it out to 7 percent."
Overall, Potter said, pizza commands 12 percent of the Aussie fast-food market.
Impatience is a virtue
When pondering how to hatch Eagle Express, Potter said he uncovered research showing customers would eat pizza more often -- if they could get it faster.
"That's the biggest single barrier to people buying it more often, waiting in the store," said Potter. "Waiting 30 minutes for takeaway is like waiting 30 minutes with a screaming kid."
Eagle Express pizza holding cabinet.
While burger and chicken chains have mastered the quick turnaround, pizza companies, he said, have done only a so-so job feeding the fleeting flock. Since implementing Eagle Express in 20 stores earlier this year, however, it appears many birds of that feather are flocking together at Potter's places.
Sales at one store have doubled, while others report increases of 20 percent to 30 percent. Once the instant pizza system goes nationwide, Potter predicts it'll boost the chain's sales by 30 percent in 2002.
The cost of retrofitting a store with a drive-through window and a heated holding cabinet is about AUS $10,000 (approximately U.S. $20,000). Potter declined to say what a holding cabinet alone costs.
As the number-three Australian pizza chain (Pizza Hut has 282 stores and Domino's Pizza has 200 stores), Eagle Boys opened 13 stores last year, plans to add 35 more in 2002 and is keen on nesting in China and Southeast Asia. Founded in 1987, Eagle Boys had 55 stores in New Zealand, but sold them all in 2000 to Restaurant Brands, a Pizza Hut franchisee.