It wasn’t the biggest cookie-cutter casual dining concept that Uno has transformed along the Northeast, hundreds of miles from the heart of Chicago. After being called Pizzeria Uno for several decades, the brand had undergone a menu expansion, implemented new designs, changed its name to Uno Chicago Grill and moved its headquarters to Boston.
Amid these changes, downtown Chicago’s first Pizzeria Uno restaurant had remained the same, and Frederick preferred a return to those roots. For him, the brand’s latest franchise push offers an opportunity to spread the vibe, culture and menu of the original Pizzeria Uno to markets nationwide.
“It’s a pizzeria,” Frederick says of the brand’s new prototype. “It’s not a relaxed atmosphere at all. It’s almost like the difference between Red Lobster and a seafood dive.”
Frederick describes the new Pizzeria Uno model as a hybrid between casual quick service and full service, with counter service at lunchtime and table service in the evening. The menu, which is about two-thirds the size of the brand’s typical casual menu, is more pizza-focused but still includes natural additions like wings, salads, sandwiches and desserts.
The concept is approximately 2,000 square feet, which isn’t too far from the 3,000 square foot space of the original Chicago location. But Frederick says that number is by no means an exact target. Instead, the model comes with a customizable floor plan that encourages operators to step into second-generation spaces that invoke a unique feel as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.
“The great thing about size is obviously lower construction costs and lower rent and all that,” Frederick says. “The other thing is pizza is the most profitable thing we can sell. It lends itself to better margins. On a profit per square foot basis, it’s going to be significantly better.
He adds that while more people are returning to dining rooms, Uno’s takeout and delivery business has not diminished.
The Pizzeria Uno model is equipped with a new cooking technology that eliminates any idea that deep pizza requires a longer cooking time. Frederick says oven technology has come a long way, and Uno’s operations team worked with Middleby Marshall, a restaurant supply company, to find the right equipment for fast, consistent cooking.
Now more scientific than artistic, the process is about having the ability to meet consumer needs during peak hours. The CEO says the chain has accomplished this by getting food into the hands of customers in around 10 minutes.
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The prototype, which uses the same recipes and ingredients as the original venue, opened last summer in Highland, Indiana, a suburb of Chicago. When Frederick visits potential franchisees on Discovery Day, he takes them to dinner at the store downtown, then they drive to the concept in Highland. Between these two destinations, no one can taste differences in the pizza, says the CEO.
At the inaugural site, offsite orders represent more than half of sales, a figure higher than management had anticipated. Although Frederick says it’s been a phenomenal start, the service model and offerings are still being adjusted.
“We initially started with one of those designs where you could go the full line, which I think is in vogue now,” Frederick says. “What we found is that with pizza, people normally know what they want. They come, and they don’t choose things. That was a big lesson for us, and at the future we are more likely to use it as more table space or even as a beer and wine bar.
In addition to online and standalone locations, Uno is also looking to enter hotels with a full-service restaurant that’s essentially a replica of the original Chicago store, right down to the “water stains on the ceiling,” Frederick notes.
The CEO adds that Uno’s ROI is especially compelling for hotel owners who already have a pre-existing kitchen and are only a few pizza ovens away from opening a location. Hotel guests provide integrated restaurant traffic, Frederick says, and the restaurant would also benefit from third-party takeout and delivery.
Uno also plans to open take-out/delivery-only outlets, strictly as a supplement and “return on investment”, as Frederick puts it. In November, Uno planned to sign a lease to open a 1,000 square foot offsite store in Orlando.
“We’re going to do it for all the business reasons we’ve done before, but in terms of demonstration, I don’t think we need to do it,” Frederick says. “You just have to look at our [full-service restaurant] prototype and say, OK, here’s the business we’re doing on takeout and delivery. Just imagine a smaller space with lower construction costs. »
At press time, Uno had three franchisees signed up for the new prototype, including one who wants a hotel restaurant; another considering a standalone version of the Pizzeria Uno model; and a third that operates a few hotels but wants to open a satellite restaurant about 20 miles away, as well as a take-out/delivery unit.
Frederick says other operators in the pipeline are close to signing deals. A franchisee who hung out with the CEO in Chicago even expressed interest in opening 20 new locations across multiple states.
As for where these new stores will land, the CEO says Uno is more about the “who” than the “where.” The chain targets operators that are sophisticated enough to have their own infrastructure and can justify the construction of several units.
In 2022, the company hopes to sign 15 new franchisees, and Frederick feels confident in that goal due to Uno’s position in the restaurant business.
“It’s not [a] a brand new pizza idea, nor an established brand where there is no white space,” he says. “Our value proposition is that we are a very well-known brand in the category with existing infrastructure support and huge amounts of white space.”