Executive Q&A: Romeo's Pizza CEO Ryan Rose
1851 Franchise spoke with Rose to learn more about the pizza brand’s franchisee-oriented transformation, what separates it from competitors in the industry and what an ideal candidate looks like.
Romeo’s Pizza, the 50-unit emerging pizza franchise out of Medina, Ohio, is on the cusp of major franchise growth. Over the past few years, Romeo’s Pizza has experienced the highest sales in its 27-year history, thanks in large part to the appointment of multi-unit franchisee Ryan Rose as the company’s CEO. Now with Rose at the helm, Romeo’s Pizza has seen impressive year-over-year sales gains despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and has already signed 25 new franchise agreements in 2021.
1851 Franchise caught up with Rose to learn more about his role at the company, the strength of the Romeo’s Pizza franchise opportunity and the brand’s future.
1851 Franchise: Tell us about your background.
Ryan Rose: Romeo’s Pizza started in 1994 as a mom-and-pop shop and began franchising in 2006 after winning multiple national pizza awards and taking third place on the Food Network’s Pizza Challenge. In 2013, I joined the Romeo’s Pizza brand as the franchisee of the original location in Medina, Ohio, where my partner Mike Rao and I learned about the business, the menu and the technology. We really fell in love with the concept and over the next year, we went on to acquire a second and third location. In 2015, the original founder asked me to come aboard the leadership team as the CEO of the brand. The company had 29 locations at that time. Fast forward one year later, we purchased the company from the original owner and proceeded to revamp the entire brand.
Over the next year-and-a-half, we broke down everything about the business model and operations to ensure efficiency. In 2017, we really started to focus on growth and saw record sales for the next few years. In 2020, when the pandemic hit and created a massive demand in the pizza segment, we exploded in growth, with our year-over-year same-store sales up 26% from 2019. In Q1 of 2021, we continued to see growth with a 14% increase in same store sales.
Today, we are looking to continue that growth. We have attracted a lot of attention from experienced franchisees in other industries who want to balance out their portfolio with a pandemic-proof, recession-resistant business. We have 50 open and operating locations and are on schedule to open 20 more by the end of the year. We have another 170 units that are sold or committed to, and we are well on our way to hitting the 200-unit mark. This is a critical moment for any franchise brand, and we are 100% focused on growth and ensuring franchisee success.
1851: Tell us a little bit about the leadership team.
Rose: The thing that really separates Romeo’s Pizza from other pizza franchises is our commitment to franchisee success. As franchisees ourselves, Mike and I have an intimate understanding of the needs of Romeo’s Pizza owners. Becoming the CEO of a restaurant franchise was not something I had ever planned on doing, but as a franchisee, I was blown away by the strength of this brand. Even the fact that they wanted a franchisee as CEO just shows how dedicated this brand is to supporting each and every owner at the store level.
With so many of our leadership team members also involved as franchisees, we understand first-hand how decisions impact our franchise owners day to day. We understand that our growth as a franchise system depends entirely on the growth and satisfaction of our franchisees, so we’ve fine-tuned every aspect of our business model and operations to support them.
1851: What makes Romeo's Pizza a good franchise opportunity for an investor?
Rose: We’ve always been focused on providing excellence for the customer through handcrafted pizza with high-quality ingredients and a signature sweet sauce, but we’ve recently taken the step to really focus on a franchisee-focused model. Their profitability and their success is really what we are trying to achieve. Our franchisee-first environment is about keeping overhead low, reducing costs for inventory, providing platforms for technology, as well as providing review platforms that can manage and monitor negative and positive customer feedback so we can maintain a solid rating for the brand. We also work hard to drive more revenue to locations from a macro-level. Our strategy is all about creating those efficiencies for franchisees because we know they are our best sales people.
Another huge differentiation between us and many of our larger pizza competitors is that our franchisees have a voice. They are not just a number. Whether they are helping with the direction of the brand, streamlining the menu or organizing local marketing efforts, our franchisees have a seat at the table and can help us succeed. As we continue to grow, our franchisee-first mentality will allow us to operate with intention, keeping our brand vision at the forefront.
One part of our franchise opportunity that makes us immensely proud is our commitment to giving back as Local Pizza Champions. We focus on making positive impacts in the communities we serve, whether it be helping franchisees donate pizza to first responders or families in need, donating to food shelters or raising funds to support other local non-profit organizations. We are never satisfied to sit back and enjoy our own success while people around us are struggling, and that attitude really came into focus last year during the pandemic. We are always looking for ways to give back and enrich our communities. That’s one of the reasons we elevate our franchisees; they know their communities best, and they are best positioned to make a difference. When you invest in Romeo’s, you’re giving us the chance to reinvest in your community.
All of these differentiators come from the brand's overall progression over the past six years. Now, despite the economic downturn and the pandemic, we’ve continued to see record sales. Romeo’s Pizza offers a consistent, universal offering that people love and that has allowed us to remain successful even in difficult times. As we continue to attract the right, purpose-driven operators, we are able to highlight that track record of success with our Item 19 — our average unit volume of more than $800,000 was a direct result of the brand transformation that took place in 2016, and we have really created a strong infrastructure for growth.
Additionally, when you look at the pizza segment in particular, it is tough to find white space with large brands because most of the prime markets are already taken. We have a vast array of available markets, and that is a major differentiator.
1851: Who is the ideal franchise candidate?
Rose: We are primarily looking to attract established, multi-brand owners who are looking to expand their portfolio because they have the necessary experience to succeed.
It is also important that candidates understand they aren’t just buying a store — they are joining a lifestyle. We are one big family, and just because a candidate may have a lot of money doesn’t mean they are going to be approved. We want our franchisees to be committed to making their local community better and be willing to buy into the Romeo’s Pizza culture.
1851: What are you excited about for the future of Romeo's Pizza?
Rose: We are about to open our 50th store, which will be a huge milestone. Looking ahead, we plan on continuing to build out our franchise opportunity, whether it be with stronger marketing, operations or anything else, to ensure our established and incoming owners have the infrastructure to succeed.
As we continue to grow, we are also excited to stay committed to our core values by continuing to give back in new ways. One big milestone for the brand was creating our charitable foundation, The Sweet Smiles Foundation, which is all about making a positive difference in the communities we serve as well as in the world. We also partnered with the 2nd & 7 Foundation, which helps support childhood literacy. Another recent initiative was partnering with the biggest box manufacturer in the world and the Arbor Day Foundation to plant enough trees to make up for the amount of boxes we use every year.
1851: What are your growth goals for 2021 and beyond?
Rose: So far in 2021, we have already signed 25 new franchise agreements, and we are on track to reaching our goal of 60–65 open stores by the end of the year.
Specifically, we are looking to develop in target markets where we currently have a footprint or will have one soon. Some of the target markets identified include Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Florida, Colorado and Texas.
The cost to open a Romeo’s Pizza franchise ranges from $190,800 to $640,500, including a $30,000 franchise fee. For more information on franchising with Romeo’s Pizza, visit https://romeospizzafranchise.com/contact/.