Burger joints, beware: A bullseye has been painted on your territory. The 100-unit Pizza Patrón is expanding its footprint in the quick-service segment, having recently signed a deal to open its fourth “QSP” (quick-service pizza) model in Houston in the spring.
Since late 2008, Pizza Patrón has opened three QSP models, two in San Antonio and one in the Dallas area.
The existing QSP units have proven successful thus far. The first to open, located in the south/central area of San Antonio, became the top-selling store in the company within its first week of business. Many discussions are taking place to further grow this model, according to Andy Gamm, Pizza Patrón’s brand director.
“There is a lot of active real estate searching taking place right now regarding this model,” he said. “They’re a little harder to find than our traditional restaurants, because they’re standalone units versus an inline strip center location, but the idea behind them has interested many of our multiple market operators.”
Specifically, that idea is for Pizza Patrón to differentiate itself from competitors, and to find more ways to serve its customers. The QSP model does this in two ways: The free-standing building offers a higher level of visibility than the chain’s traditional inline stores, and the model is faster and more convenient for guests.
“This particular type of store distinguishes us in the community, just by virtue of being a free-standing building,” Gamm said. “We knew if we could figure out a way to make our menu items, primarily our pizza, in a fast food process, it would make us different than anyone else in the pizza business.”
The need for oven speed
The starting point in Pizza Patrón’s QSP component was finding a speedy system. The locations include a drive-thru, a carry-out lobby and most also will include a walk-up window. Gamm estimates that 40 percent to 50 percent of these models’ business comes from the drive-thru component.
But it wasn’t the restaurant layout that set the ball in motion on these quick-service plans; it was the equipment.
Pizza Patrón worked with longtime supplier Lincoln to develop new "FastBake" technology that could be added to any of the company's existing impinger-style ovens. The system, now on its third version, allows for custom-made pizzas to be baked in just over 3 minutes.
“We wanted (the equipment) in place first before making any other plans. The original FastBake reduced cooking time by 25 percent. The bake time has since been refined on the second and now third versions to about 3.5 minutes,” Gamm said. “But the biggest thing is the FastBake evolution has gone from only cooking pizzas to now being able to run our entire menu through.”
The FastBake III has only been available for a few months now. The oven’s technology is proprietary to Lincoln, a brand owned by Manitowoc Foodservice. All new Pizza Patrón units have the FastBake III equipment. Existing operators have begun switching over, but it’s not mandated by the company at this point, said Gamm.
The QSP model, and its FastBake technology, helps position the chain in a relatively new pool of competition.
“We’re no longer competing just with other pizza chains, especially since prices in the pizza segment keep getting lower and lower. Now these prices rival fast food chains,” Gamm said. “From a customer standpoint, the two (pizza and QSR) are no longer separate. We’re no longer up against just the Pizza Huts, but also the KFCs and the Taco Bells. We’re competing for the same customers more than ever, and this model provides us with a big advantage against our traditional pizza competitors.”
Silver anniversary promotion features Mexican icon
Another advantage leveraged by Pizza Patrón is its unique niche catering to the Latino population. The company has accepted pesos at all of its locations since 2007 and has long streamlined its general and Hispanic marketing messages.
Pizza Patrón, which first opened its doors on April 16, 1986, will embrace its crossover appeal with its 25th anniversary promotion, which will run from April 18 through the end of June.
For the systemwide “Aniversario de plata” (silver anniversary), Pizza Patrón has partnered with Pepsi to bring back special collectors’ bottles, called Lindros, which were popular throughout Mexico in the 1980s and ‘90s.
“We wanted to do something for our anniversary that focused on our Latin roots and was culturally relevant. Pepsi’s Lindros series was hugely successful in Mexico and Latin America, and highly collectible. People still remember that promotion,” Gamm said. “It has a real strong iconic connection with the people of Mexico and we’re so excited that Pepsi is bringing it back with Pizza Patrón.”
The cultural iconography is further embraced with imagery of Cantinflas, an actor who is widely considered to be the Charlie Chaplin of Mexico. Cantinflas, who was born in 1911 and died in 1993, will be featured on the 25th anniversary Lindros (based on the Spanish word “cylindros,” for cylinder, describing the shape of the bottle).
“Cantinflas is such an icon in Mexican cinema, but he also won a Golden Globe in 1956, and so he has a big crossover appeal, just like our brand,” Gamm said. “We’re looking forward to this anniversary because of the promotion’s appeal – both historical and cultural.”
The anniversary will also be marked with scratch-off cards and instant prize opportunities. It will be welcomed with the most extensive marketing campaign in Pizza Patrón’s history.
“We hope to make a big splash to celebrate 25 years,” Gamm said. “A lot of people in many markets still don’t’ know who we are, and those who do know who we are don’t know we’ve been around for this long. We hope to change that.”
A robust 25th anniversary marketing campaign is only the beginning for Pizza Patrón this year. The company, which currently includes 100 dine-in and carry-out restaurants in seven states, hopes to reach 650 units in 10 years. Forty are currently under development.
“Our objective is to grow into a nationally recognized brand. To do that, we’re targeting bigger markets, like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Miami and Houston,” Gamm said.
The QSP model will be a big factor in the company’s growth strategy, Gamm added. And, considering one-third of the nation’s population 19 years old and younger is expected to be Latino by 2015, Pizza Patrón’s Hispanic influence will most likely work in its favor, as well.
“We will continue to accept pesos wherever we go. Within the Hispanic population alone, there is enough potential business for us that we feel confident we can become a national brand,” Gamm said. “Our core focus is a very young, very fast growing and very bicultural segment and we’re excited to grow along with that population.”