Borriello Brothers, Colorado Springs, CO — Rocky Mountain High

Borriello brothers  Mike Clemente, Rob Raia, Kathy Stein, Bill Stein and Chris SteinLocal chain brings taste of Big Apple to Colorado Springs

Sitting down with the senior management team at Colorado-based Borriello Brothers is like sitting down with family. Several pizzas flank the table, everybody’s got a plate and no one’s shy about digging in. And that’s precisely how they run their nine-store operation: it’s all-hands on deck.

Borriello Brothers was founded in 1999 in downtown Colorado Springs. In 2001, current owner Mike Clemente joined the founding brothers, who were looking to exit the business to head back to the Big Apple. He bought the original location with Rob Raia, who had been a food supplier and in 2006, customer demand prompted the opening of their second location. Raia says he had been “collecting equipment for a few years” in anticipation of potential growth, and soon after, partner Bill Stein joined the company as it added its third store. By that time, “people were almost lining up outside before we were even open,” Stein says. “People would stop in as we were building. It was funny –– we never even did a grand opening. It was all word-of-mouth.”

Today, Borriello Brothers operates nine stores with $10 million in sales. Clemente says the key to growth has been control. “The economy hasn’t been as cooperative as it (once had) been, but we’re running lean,” he says. The company brought on Bill’s son, Chris Stein, as its business manager just before the sixth and seventh stores opened to “solidify the back end and to standardize operations and build the corporation across all of these locations,” Chris says.

Borriello Brothers is built on a fast-casual concept using counter service, and it caters to the many transplants brought to the area by the nearby Army and Air Force bases. Its traditional New York pizza is familiar for many East Coast military families. “We get them as close to home as we possibly can,” Clemente says.

“The original location downtown was just kind of a traditional New York-style pizzeria, so that’s what we’ve always done, and it just seems to have worked,” Raia adds.

Chris says Borriello Brothers’ key philosophy is to offer quality food at a price that’s comparative to national chains. “I think that’s what makes us popular,” he says. Eighty percent of the company’s sales is comprised of pizza, and the stores do nearly equal shares delivery, carryout and dine-in. It divides carryout and pick-up into separate divisions –– those who call ahead and place an order and those who spontaneously stop in.

Cheese and pepperoni slices, the company’s top sellers, are sold all day with a specialty pizza slice sold through the lunch day part. Its Five Boroughs (pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and black olives) is Borriello Brothers’ best-selling specialty offering. Customers like the ease of ordering from a list of specialty pizzas. “If you make their decisions for them, it works better,” Raia says.

“It’s suggestive selling,” Clemente adds.

They also offer gluten-free pizza, catering to a population that wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy pizza. Careful consideration went into the addition, and Raia says they keep gluten-free dough separate, even going so far as to bake it separately. To date, they’ve had no issues with cross contamination. “There’s a following,” Bill says, and Mike agrees. “If you offer it, they’ll find you,” he adds.

Aside from pizza, Borriello Brothers menus appetizers, wings, salads, calzones, hero sandwiches, a handful of plated dinners and desserts. It’s an ambitious menu, but one that is manageable by using the same ingredients across a number of items. They’re not immune to industry trends and have added artisan ingredients, such as feta cheese, and convenience items like boneless wings and take-and-bake pizzas, to compete on a national level with other chains –– a move that will help it grow in emerging markets.

Beer and wine are available, but comprise only two percent of sales. “We are not an alcohol factory,” Stein says. “If you read the sign, it says the beer is there to complement the food.”

For years, Borriello Brothers made its own dough at the individual stores, but as the company grew, it moved to a commissary concept before outsourcing it completely. “We have a refrigerated truck, and we used to deliver dough to every store every day,” Stein says. “We’d make it in one of the stores every day, and it got to be overwhelming.” The distance to deliver dough on a daily basis became challenging as the company grew, and “consistency, of course, was the main goal,” Clemente says.

They also worked with a major sauce vendor to create a private label for their signature marinara-style sauce to sell to consumers, a move that helps brand recognition beyond the local stores.

The company’s management team has begun to streamline its operations, including utilizing portion control, building a recipe book for standardization (a critical tool for growth), developing an organizational chart and creating training videos. Technology continues to play a key role in its success, and they credit Colorado Springs’ tech-savvy consumers for the push toward emerging technological trends, such as online ordering.

A call center –– staffed by 15 and open during dinner hours –– was added earlier this year, and the owners cite rising costs of outsourcing as a factor. They had originally looked at an in-house call system in 2007, but technology available at the time wouldn’t maintain the volume produced by the stores, and they didn’t have the space to hold the equipment, so they outsourced it. “When you have a restaurant that’s a little busy, and you’ve got the phones ringing and a line in front of you with people trying to order, it’s not fair to the customer,” says Stein. During the busy summer season, they can receive up to 900 calls on a weekend night, but they now have the space and capability to handle that high volume on their own.

While grassroots marketing utilizing social media works well for Borriello Brothers, they also use available technological efforts like text couponing and e-mail marketing. They’ve even created their own iPhone app, a move that puts them ahead of their competitors. Traditional radio and print advertising work well, but advertising in the annual Entertainment Book, a book of local, regional and national coupons sold online and through community organizations, is especially successful. So are fund-raising cards sold through schools and churches. “People seem to love these,” Chris says. “They see a great value because they’re supporting the schools, which is also important to us.”

That community involvement builds goodwill and expands the company’s name beyond traditional advertising outlets. They have used their mobile pizza kitchen –– which is cleverly built into a fire truck –– to feed nearby military families and the homeless, but they also use it to give them a presence at local festival and fairs, continuously building brand awareness as they consider franchising.

As the company has grown to nine stores, operations has become challenging for its senior management team. The benefit of having hands-on owners is that they are able to be in more than one place at a time, says Raia, and that allows them to stretch out management duties. They are currently working to better define their individual roles to avoid overlapping responsibilities.

Future expansion will be done through franchising, and they have started that lengthy process by drawing up a master agreement and federally registering their trademark. Traveling to and from regional locations –– like their store in Denver –– is becoming time-consuming, so they’ll look for potential franchisees who prefer to be as hands-on as they are. “On a Friday night, it’s nothing for me to go into a store and hop on the oven,” Stein says. “Mike can run over to the prep table, and Rob does everything … I go in sometimes (and) if there’s a pile of dishes, I’m in the dish pit for an hour and washing dishes because that’s what needs to be done. That’s the type of business we’re in.”

They’ve created a prototype for their restaurant design, and their master recipe book and training program will help with consistency. Still, they don’t worry about taking the uniqueness out of their product, which they say stands on its own.

“A cardinal sin, for us, it to use the word ‘style,’ ” Chris says. “Everybody says that they’re ‘New York-style pizza’, but we’re not New York-style pizza. This is New York pizza. This is what you get when you go to a pizzeria in New York.”

Says Stein: “We want you to get the same product –– the same exact product –– from store to store. I don’t want someone coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, you know, it was different over at this store, or ‘It was better over here.’ That’s the worst thing that I could hear.”

Mandy Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.

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