Chicago-based Pizzeria Uno has begun a hotel conversion program that brings in both hotel guests and locals. It gives Uno more recognition and brings that strong branding to hotels. Three units are open to date.
This year, Pizzeria Uno created a restaurant conversion strategy in which the brand turns existing restaurants in hotels into pizzerias. The result is two-fold: Uno adds another restaurant to their count and gets the name recognition, and hotels get a well-known restaurant with signature pizzas that brings in more than hotel guests. It brings in locals as well.
To date, three hotel restaurants have been converted to Pizzeria Unos, in Schiller Park, Illinois, Indiana Dunes, Indiana, and Farmington Hills, Michigan. Each one has seen a 100% to 200% increase in pre-conversion sales.
The brand expects to have 10 more open or under agreement by the end of the year. In all, Pizzeria Uno currently sits at 80 restaurants, with 32 of those being corporate owned.
Pizza Marketplace talked to Eric Frederick, CEO of Pizzeria Uno, and Chris Dellamarggio, head of marketing for the Chicago-based brand, in a phone interview to learn more about the hotel conversion program and what Pizzeria Uno is bringing to the table in hotels.
Q. What’s the impetus behind the new restaurant conversion program?
Frederick: We wanted to grow. The company hasn’t added a new domestic franchisee in over 10 years. Ultimately, the best strategy involves solving a problem for somebody else and doing something a little bit different than what the rest is. We started to look and said: “The good news is that everybody loves pizza. The bad news is that almost everyone has a pizza place they go to. … We started to think about hotels. They’re in hospitality. And if you think about a hotel, they watch all these takeout pizzas come across their door. Someone has a lacrosse tournament and they bring all their kids there and they’re getting a ton of pizza from somebody else. Pizzeria Uno is a full-service restaurant, they’ve got a full-service menu. Chicken, fish, steak, amazing pasta dishes and appetizers, so we fit in well with their clientele.
With Doordash and GrubHub, we’ve got a national brand, so we go up on those and now people are getting takeout and delivery (from hotel conversion restaurants). With the first three that (were built), we were pleasantly surprised — we were getting a lot of people from the local community coming in to eat. It’s really just a phenomenal revenue increase.
Q. Why hotels? What do they bring to the pizza market in a segment that’s not currently filled?
Dellamaggio: For hotels that are looking to convert (their restaurants), it’s multiple revenue streams that they didn’t have previously.
Frederick: I would look at it as what do hotels bring to their guests. It’s a really well-known pizza brand. If you want pizza and you’re out on the road, you’re taking a recommendation maybe from the person at the front desk. Even then you might be in the middle of nowhere. They’re bringing their guests not just great pizza but frankly our entire menu, which is extremely strong. … You’re giving your local community a different option, and a very good option, for pizza.
Q. Pizzeria Uno is a national brand with locations all over the country. How does this hotel conversion program strengthen the brand’s consumer awareness?
Frederick: With this, what’s great for us is we’ve got a lot of white space because we’ve got 80 restaurants. Now, we’re predominantly up and down the East Coast, as well as our Orlando restaurants and obviously downtown Chicago… with that said, people all over the country seem to know who we are because of our heritage.
Q. What kind of hotel spaces are you looking for?
Frederick: Ideally, what we’re looking for is it’s got to be a hotel with a full-service restaurant, so they can offer the entire menu as well as make the pizza. Our sweet spot is hotels that are going under some sort of a refresh or conversion, although it doesn’t have to be that way. If you think about it, the conversion costs are fairly minimal. They’re using our color scheme, but they’ve already got their kitchen equipment already set. … We’re not so much focused on the where as we’re focused on the who. Because we’re a small brand and we’re growing, we’re frankly only taking people who are very passionate about Uno and they’re very passionate about hospitality.
Another reason why we’re pursuing hoteliers is although they are hoteliers first and restaurateurs second, they fundamentally get hospitality. The good news for us is that you can look at a hotel’s ratings, you can visit them and see how they treat their guests, and if they’re doing that right they’re probably going to serve our food right as well. … Having good food will only get you so far in this business. Having the guest part is equally important.
Q. What are some of the lucrative revenue streams that come out of this restaurant conversion program?
Dellamaggio: If they have a previous restaurant at their hotel that is sort of a generic themed restaurant, they’re pretty much only going to see traffic from folks that are at the hotel and they don’t have an option to go out. They go down and sit at the restaurant. When you bring in the Pizzeria Uno name, you bring in a whole new set of guests. So for example, you’re going to have your hotel guests coming in and now they have a trusted brand name that they can dine with. They may not be looking for alternatives to go out of the hotel and eat.
You’re also going to have a takeout pizza business within the hotel you wouldn’t have had before. People are going to be ordering pizza and it’s going to be coming in the front door and up to their rooms. Now you have a chance to capture that pizza takeout business, but from within the hotel.
You’re also going to get the neighborhood delivery business which is going to be working a lot of times through the third-party delivery apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub. Now you have the brand name of Pizzeria Uno on these platforms and people who live in the local neighborhoods and communities are going to be able to order through third parties and get deep-dish pizza or our regular pizza and now our Detroit-style pizza, potentially.
On top of that, which has been a really big part of what we’ve seen with the couple conversions we’ve had already, is we’re getting folks from the local community dining in at the restaurant where they would never even think about going in to their local hotel restaurant on a Friday night. Now we’ve become a destination for them to go and dine out.
Additionally, we have an established group sales program through Uno where we work with tour groups who are touring around the country and we’re tapped in to those. They’re looking for dinner options, so we will bring in busloads of folks.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is the managing editor at Networld Media Group and the site editor for PizzaMarketplace.com and QSRweb.com. She has more than 20 years’ experience covering food, people and places.
An award-winning print journalist, Mandy brings more than 20 years’ experience to Networld Media Group. She has spent nearly two decades covering the pizza industry, from independent pizzerias to multi-unit chains and every size business in between. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry. She has an insatiable appetite for learning, and can tell you where to find the best slices in the country after spending 15 years traveling and eating pizza for a living.