Pizza: It's what's for breakfast

Sept. 13, 2005

Joe Whitty began experimenting with breakfast pizzas a few years ago. When friends and family sampled the fruits of his labor, they told the founder of 65-unit Happy Joe's Pizza & Ice Cream that he'd stumbled onto something significant.

The Bettendorf, Iowa, chain had never served breakfast, but Whitty's son and company president, Larry, convinced him it to give it a try.

I was kind of against it at first," said Whitty. "But I had to say to myself at some point, 'If you're going to have your son run the company, you'd better give him the leeway to do things.'"

Today, the senior Whitty doesn't regret giving in. Not only are four Happy Joe's stores selling breakfast pizzas, the chain is rolling out a new concept called Happy Joe's Cafez, which serves breakfast.

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Burke Corporation

The business model makes sense on many levels, Joe Whitty said. It meets customer desires for good food at breakfast and drives revenue in a daypart when a paid-for facility otherwise sits idle. "You have to admit that it makes sense. Even though you don't open in the morning, the bills go on, the taxes go on and the rent goes on."

Part of the plan

Sales of breakfast pizzas in c-stores are nothing new; Hot Stuff Pizza sells two omelet pizzas at its 1,100 U.S. units, though few large pizza chains have followed its lead. Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut conducted tests that never led to large-scale rollouts, though Papa John's is running a modest two-store trial.

That so few pizza companies have tried breakfast doesn't surprise Larry Whitty. Happy Joe's struggled to educate regular lunch and dinner customers that its facilities were open for breakfast. It later learned that completely new units, however, had no problems serving breakfast. "They didn't have to overcome thinking, 'Is this Happy Joe's?'," Larry Whitty said.

Like any new business venture, Liz Hertz encourages operators to study the breakfast option carefully. As director of marketing for Burke Corp., a pizza toppings manufacturer in Nevada, Iowa, she's seen it work, but she said it has to be done well for customers to accept a non-traditional option from a traditional pizzeria.

"You've already got most of what you need for breakfast pizzas in inventory already, so it sounds like a natural to try it. But it makes sense to put serious thought into it," Hertz began. "Even if the idea doesn't sound like a slam dunk, it's probably still a worthwhile opportunity to generate positive sales growth."

One Happy Joe's franchisee reported that 8 percent to 10 percent of her total pizza sales are omelet pies, the bulk of which are B-to-B delivery orders. And according to Larry Whitty, the R&R crowd is demanding an increasing share of breakfast pizzas.

"We've also noticed over the last two years that during football season, a lot of tailgaters headed to games will stop and grab three or four omelet pizzas and a half-gallon coffee tote," he said. "That it's catching on like that tells us there's a lot more potential for it."

Topics: Operations Management

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