Kono Pizza founders: 'Unique experience will set us apart in the industry'
About three-fifths of the world's pizza consumption is done by Americans. We are territorial about our preferences (New York vs. Chicago-style, anyone?); we are routine about our family night big brands; we even argue about whether or not to fold a slice, eat it flat, or use a knife and fork.
So what happens when the narrative changes a bit? When a concept comes along and changes up our entire perception of a pizza slice — the way it is, the way it always has been?
According to David Ragosa, Carlo Ruggiero and Greg Kinlaw, who brought the Kono Pizza brand to the U.S., consumers get excited and they share their experience with their friends. Kono Pizza, created by Italian culinarian Rossano Boscolo, features pizza (and other offerings such as desserts) served in a portable cone. The idea is reportedly popular in Europe and the concept has more than 130 locations worldwide, but it just recently broke into the U.S. marketplace in Edison, N.J.
There are now 15 units in development, including locations for Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, California and Nebraska.
The trio has a goal of reaching 50 units nationwide within the next five years — with 20 more in the pipeline by 2019 — and to grow steadily each year thereafter. PizzaMarketplace had the chance to talk to them about how they plan to sell such a unique version of an American classic to a stubbornly loyal consumer base.
PizzaMarketplace: How will the American version of Kono Pizza differ from the European version, if at all?
Kono Pizza:The actual pizza cone is the same in all markets, providing a similar experience across every location. We started with the same menu offerings, and the construction and cooking of the pizza cones with a proprietary oven that is used overseas, as well.
PizzaMarketplace: Are there any differences as you cater to the American consumer?
Kono Pizza:The difference from Europe and America is the QSR concept. European locations are larger and provide a full restaurant environment for a relaxed sit-down meal. In the U.S., we are a QSR, focusing on smaller locations for an on-the-go experience with a fresh, made-to-order product.
PizzaMarketplace: Are you growing through franchising?
Kono Pizza: Yes, we have one corporate store in Edison, N.J., but the rest will be franchisee owned.
PizzaMarketplace: As a QSR, can you explain the store prototypes you have for franchisees?
Kono Pizza:A full store location averages 1,000 to 1,500 square feet, and a kiosk location is 200 to 500 square feet. Our mission is to keep everything simple and affordable for franchisees by offering a streamlined, manager-driven business model with a low startup cost of $250,000 to $400,000. The Italian-inspired recipes and cooking processes are standard throughout all locations, simplifying the hiring process for franchisees. In addition, each location requires a limited staff of eight to 10 part-time employees and one fulltime manager.
PizzaMarketplace: What are your top selling menu offerings in the US or European markets?
Kono Pizza:The Margherita and Chicken Parmesan cones are our best sellers. Customers love them. We're not sure how this compares to the European brand, but we think the best-sellers would be similar with the Margherita cones being very popular as a traditional option.
PizzaMarketplace: What is your price point?
Kono Pizza:The price point on our cones is $3.99 to $4.99, depending on what type of cone — breakfast, deli, pizza, dessert, kids — and if it's ordered as part of a combo meal.
PizzaMarketplace: How is your first restaurant in Edison, N.J., doing?
Kono Pizza: It opened in August and is doing very well. We legally can't give financial information but we can tell you that the customers love the product. We've had a great response from the local community embracing the new concept and coming back for more. About 60 percent of our customers are reoccurring.
PizzaMarketplace: What do you think is the draw to your concept?
Kono Pizza:We've seen customers really like the fact that our pizza cones are lower in fat and calories than a typical pizza slice, yet they can still satisfy their pizza craving. The U.S. market loves pizza and consumers are always looking for something innovative and delicious to set pizza brands apart. Now they get what they love on the go. Before the pizza cone, you couldn't eat a slice while you're walking without creating a gooey cheesy mess, but now you can.
PizzaMarketplace: In the crowded US pizza market, how will you market something so different?
Kono Pizza:One hundred percent (as a unique differentiator). If you go to a local pizzeria and have a decent slice, do you tweet your friends? Put it on Facebook or tell your friends when you get home? Probably not. But if you had something as unique as pizza in a cone from Kono Pizza, that's something worthy of a foodie Instagram picture, a tweet, or a post to Facebook.
The uniqueness of the cone is something that people are more excited to share with their friends via social media and tell them about personally. It's so popular. Kono Pizza has an experience unlike any other food product, which will set us apart in the industry.
Alicia Kelso Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.