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Why Romeo’s Pizza Is Franchising’s Next Pizza Behemoth

After three consecutive years of record-breaking sales, the rapidly growing brand is giving the pizza segment’s biggest names a run for their money. It got here by putting franchisees first.

In 2018, Romeo’s Pizza, a 49-unit emerging pizza franchise out of Medina, Ohio, experienced the highest sales in its 20-year history. In 2019, it broke that record again. Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic provided a shot in the arm to takeout and delivery restaurants. With the pizza segment benefiting more than any other, Romeo's sales exploded, yet again shattering its previous record. This year, as COVID vaccines roll out and Americans begin to put the pandemic in the rearview, Romeo’s continues to experience dramatic sales growth, reporting a 14.8% same-store sales increase across its franchise system in the first quarter of 2021.

So, how does a 20-year-old pizza franchise from the Midwest find such consistent growth before, during and after a global economic crisis? In the case of Romeo’s Pizza, it’s all about putting its franchisees first.

Romeo’s Pizza Is a Franchisee-Focused Brand

“The thing that really separates Romeo’s from other pizza franchises is our commitment to franchisee success,” said Ryan Rose, the brand’s CEO. “We understand that our growth as a franchise 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.”

Rose has an intimate understanding of the needs of Romeo’s franchisees. For years, he was - and still is - one. In 2013, Rose purchased his first Romeo’s location in Medina, Ohio. Rose quickly found an impressive return on his investment, and soon after purchased his second and third Romeo’s stores. One year later, Romeo’s founder asked Rose to join the corporate team as CEO and in 2016, Rose purchased the brand from the founder with a private equity partner.

“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, and I was all in,” Rose said. “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.”

How Romeo’s Built a Better Pizza Franchise

Despite the success Rose had found with Romeo’s as a franchisee, he saw room for improvement. In 2016, he and the brand’s corporate team embarked on a year-and-a-half-long project to refine Romeo’s franchise model and improve every aspect of the consumer and franchisee experience. 

Rose’s team reduced material costs, renegotiated contracts, scoured reviews to address negative trends and keep review scores high and improved marketing strategies to drive more traffic to stores. The franchise has enjoyed record-breaking sales every year since.

“I bought into the Romeo’s brand as a franchisee because of the people on the corporate team,” said Patrick Howlett, one of the brand’s Area Representatives in Northeast Ohio. “Ryan Rose is an exceptional leader who makes every franchisee feel like family. In addition, our product is second to none. People don’t forget their first bite of Romeo’s, and it keeps them coming back for seconds.”

Of course, much of Romeo’s success can be attributed to its product: handcrafted pizza with high-quality ingredients and a sweet signature sauce that Rose says “customers try it once, and they are hooked.” But Romeo’s stores offer their communities more than just top-tier pizza. The brand is adamant about making each location a pillar of its neighborhood, supporting the community both inside and outside the store.

“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,” Rose said. “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.”

How Romeo’s Is Preparing for Growth

Romeo’s franchisee-first philosophy has made it one of the most sought-after new franchise opportunities in the pizza segment, but Rose says the brand is not interested in onboarding just anyone. “Just because you have a lot of money, that doesn’t mean you are going to get approved,” he said. “Our franchisees are not just buying a store; they are joining a family. That’s something we take very seriously, so we’re looking for people who share our values — people who want to support their communities and take an active role in growing the brand with us.”

Romeo’s has already found plenty of candidates who fit the bill. So far this year, the brand has already signed 25 new franchise agreements and is on track to reach its goal of 60–65 open stores by the end of the year. 

That footprint may still not be as large as some of the biggest names in pizza franchising, but Rose has little doubt of his brand’s advantages over the Papa John’s and Domino’s of the world.

“The franchisees at the biggest-name pizza brands don’t have a voice — they are a number, and frankly, they don’t have a lot of growth opportunities,” he said. “Our franchisees are an integral part of our operations and decision-making processes, and because we have so much valuable white space available, franchisees have uniquely lucrative growth prospects with Romeo’s. It’s all about opportunity, and we offer a better opportunity for franchise ownership than any other brand in the segment.”

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