Growing chains prove being different equals success

Brand differentiation has helped land eight pizzerias on Technomic's list of the 50 fastest-growing chains.

Each chain making up the "Future 50" pulled in sales ranging from $25 million to $50 million, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, who said the chains on the list are typically well differentiated and provide consumers with reasons to choose them.

"(In) many cases they are regional in nature and have a great sense of the market they serve," he said. "They execute the basics well and provide customers with ample reason to return."

Customers seem to enjoy returning to The Rock Wood Fired Pizza and Spirits, No. 16 on the Future 50 list.

Jay Gigandet and Don Bellis opened the first Rock Wood in 1995 as a gritty, local pizza joint in Tacoma and have since added 11 locations throughout Washington, Oregon, Colorado and one in Canada. The key to their success was a unique restaurant concept and dedication to high-quality food, said Jackie Mendez, marketing manager

"We have continued to keep the quality of pizza and customer service as a top priority during the economic downturn,"she said. "We have strayed away from cost-saving methods that would jeopardize either of these important qualities about our wood fired pizza and our restaurants."

The rock 'n roll atmosphere is also a draw.

"The classic rock theme is fun and timeless. Our customers love the atmosphere, and lots of time goes into every build-out to ensure that each Rock is unique," Mendez said.

Plans are in the works to open in all areas of North America, Mendez said. Recently, Keep Rockin' LLC, franchisor of The Rock, signed a Master Development Agreement with Kaizen Brands INC to develop 40 stores in Canada. The first was opened in Red Deer in 2010. Keep Rockin' LLC, has also signed an agreement with the H. Katz Capital Group, forming Dream On LLC, and plans to open 15 to 30 new locations throughout the country by 2018.

"Successful chain expansion occurs because the concept satisfies customers," said The Food Connector's Edward Zimmerman. "Today's consumer is sophisticated and can spot value and authenticity; try to fool them and they will not return. Of course successful expansion also relies on access to capital and the execution of a winning strategy."

Putting a unique spin on pizza was part of Anthony Bruno's strategy when he founded the fourth chain on the Future 50 list, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Customers expect not only their pizza to be cooked in an 800-degree oven, but they also order coal-oven-roasted chicken wings topped with grilled onions, pork spare ribs with vinegar peppers and hand-rolled meatballs with ricotta cheese.

Although the pizza chain didn't report earnings to Technomic, Tristano estimated its 2010 revenue to be about $37 million.

Since its 2002 launch, the restaurant has grown to nearly 30 stores throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

Happy Joe Whitty

Happy Joe's Pizza and Ice Cream Parlor's focus on family and fun helped it take the 25th slot on the Future 50 list.

"Happy" Joe Whitty founded his first pizza and ice cream parlor in 1972, hoping to provide a family-friendly, fun atmosphere.

Happy Joe's now has 71 locations throughout Iowa and the Midwest and is known as a hot spot for kids' birthday parties.

The other pizza restaurants that made the Future 50 list were: Happy's Pizza, Snappy Tomato Pizza, Extreme Pizza and Amato's Pizza.

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