Executive Q&A: Erik Frederick, CEO of Pizzeria Uno
1851 Franchise: Tell us about the history/founding of the brand.
Erik Frederick: Pizzeria Uno was founded by Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, two famous restaurateurs in Chicago. The two were partners until Ric’s death in the ’50s, when Ike became the sole owner. The concept became wildly popular in Chicago and was regarded as the birthplace of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Along the way, there were several people who worked for Uno’s and then started their own restaurant to get a piece of the deep dish action, but it all originated from Uno. Then, in 1955, Ike opened up two new restaurants fueled by this popularity — Pizzeria Due down the street and Su Casa, an upscale Mexican restaurant.
The Pizzeria Uno concept started franchising in the 1970s, and more locations started opening nationwide. At its peak, the company grew to about 250 restaurants and was publicly traded. In 2008, the company struggled through some hard times as it moved toward fine dining. In recent years, we have started heading back to our roots and adapting the business model to best support franchisees interested in opening neighborhood pizza joints. We want to be like a pair of old jeans — we are a welcoming environment that customers love and feel comfortable with.
1851: What void does your brand fill?
Frederick: Everyone loves pizza, and Pizzeria Uno is a one-of-a-kind, nationally-recognized brand in a booming $141 billion industry. While the heart of the Pizzeria Uno menu is our signature, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and our Chicago-style thin crust, there’s something on our menu for every diner. While the menu focuses on premium pizzas made with the best ingredients and dough made from scratch daily, it also includes healthful salads, a variety of appealing appetizers, and entrees that range from chicken to steak to seafood, that can satisfy any cravings customers may have. We also have a manufacturing plant that sells frozen pizza and calzones to grocery stores, sports clubs and to various other outlets.
1851: Can you tell us about the brand’s hotel conversion strategy?
Frederick: In the spring of 2022, we converted three in-hotel restaurants in the Midwest into Pizzeria Uno locations. Since then, every one of them has seen significant sales growth. Their lowest week since converting would have been a record week for the restaurant pre-conversion. We have one location bringing in around 10 times the amount of volume on an average day. Now, we recently launched a hotel restaurant conversion strategy to partner with hotel owners and operators to help them increase their food and beverage revenue by converting their existing restaurant into a Pizzeria Uno restaurant.
Pizza is, quite simply, America’s favorite food. But hotel owners usually watch all this take-out and delivery business come into their hotel from outside restaurants, and they don’t get a nickel. Additionally, local members of the community very rarely go to a hotel restaurant for dine-in service. So, we came up with a solution to help hotel owners tap into five revenue streams: increased revenue from dine-in for hotel guests, take-out for hotel guests, take-out and/or delivery sales from the local community, dine-in revenue from people in the surrounding area who typically would not come to dine at a hotel restaurant and potential group sales from a well-established group sales team and system already in place at the corporate level.
As Pizzeria Uno franchisees, hotel owners can also enjoy lower customer acquisition costs and a higher capture rate. Consumers already know this brand, which means hotel owners can gain additional guests due to the presence of a nationally known and respected restaurant brand. If I open a new pizza restaurant in a community, I have to win customers. But if a customer is traveling and staying at the hotel, they are already in the lobby and don’t want to go through the hassle of searching for local places that will take longer and may not taste as good. By opening a Pizzeria Uno location in their hotel, operators have a reliable way to provide their guests with a great experience and great pizza.
Best of all, hotel owners already have the kitchen and dining room, so they don’t need a new lease, which keeps conversion costs low. Pizza also has lower food costs, so we will likely lower hotel owners’ food costs just by virtue of selling pizza. We are an excellent solution for hotel owners up and down their economic ladder.
1851: What are three or more of the brand’s most important milestones over the past five years?
Frederick: Opening our three hotel locations has been a monumental milestone for the brand. In addition, we’ve continued to build out our concept in recent years and perfect our business model, with the focus on going back to our roots. With oven technology advancing, we can make a deep-dish pizza in a fraction of the time it used to take, for example.
1851: What are you doing well right now?
Frederick: Simply put: making awesome pizza. This isn’t a new franchise concept coming out of nowhere. We know how to position franchisees for success. We have an established infrastructure, including training support, supply chain support, marketing support and ongoing operational support.
We also encourage local customization: our franchisee in Philly serves cheesesteaks, and our owner in Baltimore Harbor serves crab cakes. All we ask is that the food is high quality. We know great ideas will come from the entrepreneurs, and as a franchisor, we do everything to ensure they have the support they need to thrive.
1851: Why is now the time to buy this franchise?
Frederick: The sooner, the better. Our pipeline is growing every day, and we are talking to prospects all over the country. Now is the time to get in while you can. The country is also potentially heading into difficult economic times, so the sooner hotel owners can start adding a new revenue stream to the business, the better.
We have a tremendous amount of white space available, making Pizzeria Uno one of the few nationally-renowned pizza concepts with room to grow all over the country.
1851: Who is the ideal Pizzeria Uno franchisee for hotel conversions?
Frederick: We are really focused on finding the right franchisees for the brand. We have a great culture here and are looking to partner with people who truly understand hospitality and are interested in becoming a long-lasting part of their community. The ideal franchisee will be someone with a passion for the Pizzeria Uno brand — any franchise can give you all the training guides in the world, but the passion will make the guests feel like they are taken care of.
This opportunity is ideal for hotel operators interested in converting their current hotel restaurant to a Pizzeria Uno branded restaurant, hotel operators building out new hotels and restaurants, or owners of existing hotels that are adding a restaurant for the first time. There are even opportunities for hotels that don’t have a kitchen because Pizzeria Uno provides a superior frozen product from their Uno Foods division.
This isn’t just financial. We want franchisees who are passionate about our brand. Pizzeria Uno encourages an emotional connection with our customers because of the rich history of our product. We want franchisees who are excited to be a part of that.
1851: What are your growth goals?
Frederick: Our original development goal was to have 10 signed by the end of September 2022, and we have already achieved that. Looking ahead, we hope to have 25 signed by the end of March next year, which will mark one year since launching the hotel conversion program.
For more information on investing in a Pizzeria Uno franchise, visit https://unofranchise.com/.
About UNO Pizzeria & Grill
Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Uno Restaurant Holdings Corporation includes 80 company-owned and franchised UNO Pizzeria & Grill restaurants located in 18 states, and the District of Columbia, India, and Saudi Arabia. UNO is all about connecting people over amazing pizza – from its famous Chicago Deep Dish, which UNO invented in 1943, to its Chicago Thin Crust, to its gluten-free and vegan pizzas. The Company also operates Uno Foods, a consumer packaged-foods business that supplies supermarkets, airlines, movie theaters, hotels, airports, and travel plazas with frozen UNO branded products. For more information, visit www.unos.com