September/October 2022

Pizza Party

Three major Canadian pizza brands dish on how franchisees are helping them taste success

By Gina Makkar

Who doesn’t love a good slice of pizza? It’s one of the most popular foods in the world, and with the rich, flavourful marriage of sweet sauce, bubbling cheese, and crispy crust, it’s no wonder 81 per cent of Canadians eat pizza at least once a month. Franchise Canada spoke to three major players in the Canadian pizza landscape to discuss franchisee success, growth and expansion, and what it takes to stand out.

Boston Pizza

Boston Pizza opened its first location in Edmonton, Alberta in 1964. Almost 60 years later, hundreds of franchise owners serve tens of millions of guests each year, from coast to coast.

With more than 380 locations across Canada, Boston Pizza offers more than 100 menu options, including their mouth-watering pizza. It also maintains a unique niche with four revenue centres under one roof—a family-friendly dining room, sports bar, patio, and takeout and delivery—differentiating the brand by catering to a wide demographic.

Award-winning marketing and sponsorship, strong brand recognition, and solid operations are a few reasons to consider franchising with Boston Pizza. “Boston Pizza is a proudly Canadian company with hundreds of local franchise owners operating more dining rooms, sports bars, and patios than any other single brand in the country,” notes Felix DeCata, vice president of development. He says the brand truly aligns with a saying they embrace: “When they—our franchisees—succeed, we succeed,” as franchisees are the focus and the cornerstone of the brand’s success.

Although the pandemic significantly impacted Boston Pizza, the corporate team swiftly moved to implement safety processes and pivoted to a takeout-only environment. While navigating the global health crisis, the restaurants proactively closed dining rooms and bars in advance of government mandates and aligned operating policies and procedures with government directives. During the closures, Boston Pizza explored and implemented new technologies like contactless dining and created a safe and inviting environment when staff and guests returned.

With existing takeout services in place, Boston Pizza held a significant advantage when doors closed to onsite dining during the pandemic. Unlike other brands in the industry faced with the daunting task of offering takeout for the first time, Boston Pizza was already prepared. Post-pandemic, they continue to lead with great food and great experiences, for dine-in or takeout.

The franchisee network is made up of individuals from many backgrounds. Successful franchisees are entrepreneurial, business savvy, committed to the guest experience, and have a desire to contribute to
their communities.

New franchisees attend a four-week hospitality leadership training program, where they learn every aspect of the business, from operations to leadership skills. After onboarding and opening their location, a regional operations team is also at the ready for on-site support.

As for advice to potential franchisees? Do your homework and explore all business interests to find a model that speaks to you. Visit locations, sample the products, and speak to franchisees to ensure the concept is the right fit for you for the long term.

Pizza Nova

Pizza Nova was founded in 1963 by Sam Primucci and his three brothers, who wanted to bring authentic Italian pizza to the market.

Today, with more than 150 locations in Ontario, including concession stands, it’s still a family affair. Although Sam remains active in the business, his son Domenic is the president and runs the daily operations. Since he was 14, Domenic has worked a myriad of jobs from dishwasher and server, to pizza maker and operations, gaining skills and insight that allow him to be a better leader today.

Like any business, the benefits and challenges ebb and flow. Pizza Nova franchisees leverage years of experience, a proven operating system, comprehensive training, and the opportunity to be part of the family.

Many franchisees struggled to maintain consistent walk-in orders when in-store traffic was non-existent. The brand shifted to contactless delivery and a digital marketing approach to remain visible to consumers. They continued to focus on their core value of community and revamped their “That’s Amore Pizza for Kids” fundraiser in support of Variety, the Children’s Charity of Ontario, where 50 cents from every dipping sauce purchased during the month of May was donated to help kids in need. Pizza Nova raised over $200,000 at a time when children needed it the most.

Franchisees come from all walks of life and incoming franchisees should be passionate about pizza and committed to running a business within the system. Training includes a comprehensive nine-week program with a head trainer before the store opens. District managers visit newly opened locations to ensure sales and operations start off strong.

Today, Pizza Nova is in a strong position to continue expanding and opening new stores, with the Collingwood location opening on September 14, 2020, the Oshawa location on April 5, 2021, and the recent opening in Courtice on July 12, 2022. Enhanced processes and tools provide more agility at the store level. Although the brand will continue to evolve, it remains committed to its core values and supporting franchisees with ongoing training and development.

“It’s time to hit the refresh button,” says Domenic Primucci. “Let’s get back to all the things we were working on pre-pandemic. We want to continue with the quality of our product, service to our customers, and implanting technology. Although technology is useful, we’re in the restaurant business and the restaurant business revolves around human interactions. We need to get back to those great experiences for our customers. That’s our main focus for Pizza Nova at this time.”

When selecting a franchise opportunity, Pizza Nova encourages business owners to find the ‘why’ to help uncover their purpose. They also advise franchisees to do their due diligence to avoid surprises and pitfalls. Franchisees should also be realistic about the time and commitment required to maintain a business. A franchise is a full-time job, but with the right tools and mindset, prospective franchisees are positioned for success.

Pizza Pizza

First established in 1967 in Toronto, the first-ever Pizza Pizza location at Jarvis and Wellesley is still in operation today. Michael Overs, the founder of Pizza Pizza, had a strong vision and continued to chart the direction and innovation of the company until Paul Goddard, the current president, took the helm.

One of the first pizza companies to use a centralized call system, the “11-11” jingle used in advertising is so famous that it spawned a joke of its own: that Canada Customs officers would ask people to recite the jingle as proof that they were Canadian.

Like many, the brand had to navigate through numerous challenges at the start of the pandemic. In response, Pizza Pizza implemented tamper-proof boxes and contactless pickup and delivery, a testament to their in-house marketing team, creative studio, and IT team. With a solid information technology group in-house, the brand can quickly respond to trends and pivot as needed. Now Pizza Pizza continues to expand throughout the country, and is also focused on rightsizing stores and optimizing their existing footprint, so they can leverage strengths as they continue to grow.

Franchisees range from new Canadians to those who have grown up with the brand. Pizza Pizza boasts many second-generation franchisees who have taken over operations from their parents, and owners who witnessed their families’ success and now own a Pizza Pizza location of their own. All successful franchisees share a common love for the concept and trust in its leadership. They are dedicated to growing their business and leveraging the support of the corporate team.

Once on board, franchisees embark on a nine-week training program, and established franchisees often pave the way for new business owners by assisting with training at one of the certified training restaurants.

A comprehensive team assists in everything from sourcing and distributing fresh products to restaurants, to ensuring quality metrics are met. Real estate, construction, and design teams help secure and manage optimal sites by researching demographics and growth opportunities. Franchisees are prepared in all aspects of operations once training is complete.

Chuck Farrell, VP of franchising and people, advises new franchisees to “join a brand they love and identify with.” Franchising in the restaurant industry is a full-time commitment, so aligning with the product and brand is paramount to success. Take advantage of the support systems in place. Learn from coaches and company leaders. Get involved in your community. This is a local business!