Photos by Rick Daugherty
Tony Pasquini has worked in pizzerias since he was 10 years old, so it’s no surprise that he’s now hawking pies for a living. While still a senior in college in the 1980s, the affable marketing major opened Pasquini’s Pizzeria in Denver and hasn’t looked back since. It’s been a slow evolution, but one that has allowed each store to maximize its sales potential and ready the concept for franchising.
“We opened our first restaurant in 1986, then we didn’t open our second store until 1998,” laughs Pasquini. “So, as you can see, we took our time.” The newest location, pictured in this article, opened in 2006 when a friend approached Pasquini and wanted to put a store in Littleton, Colorado.
“I think I need to do a corporate store now before I really start selling franchises,” says Pasquini of his tentative growth plans. Since Pasquini doesn’t own a store himself any longer, his time is now spent on marketing, branding and operations management.
“When a new store opens, I’m here,” he says. “I’m constantly meeting with the wait staff before each shift, constantly striving to make things better. “The important thing for me is for every store to be successful — for it to do well and for it to be run correctly.”
The current growth goals are for the company to reach 10-15 units in Colorado. “Then,” says Pasquini, “we’ll see what we want to do from there.” Pasquini says he’s been able to get people financed thanks to the small company’s strong sales. “We’re close to $2 million per store, give or take,” he explains. The average Pasquini’s location is 4,500 square feet and costs approximately $650,000 to get up and running. Pasquini has been able to secure SBA backing for his store owners provided they can come up with 30 percent up front. “That’s all in — cash fl ow, marketing, training, menus, advertising,” he says.
Each of the four Pasquini’s stores are unique in their look and theme. The Littleton location, for example, has a retro boxing theme. “With the sign outside, we wanted to show right away what we are — retro comfort food,” explains Pasquini. “The brick inside and the tin really give it a retro look and goes back to a time when you went out for pizza with your family and friends. But every store is different.”
What isn’t different is the food, most of which is scratch-made using fine ingredients.
“Our business philosophy is to try to be authentic, real, genuine,” Pasquini says. “People are smart and you can’t pull one over on them. It has to be based on something real, and I try to convey that with the décor in each of our stores. The important thing is the food and our service.”
Beyond that, adds Pasquini, it’s about community involvement: “The only thing that doesn’t change is that we really run the gamut with our demographics,” he says. “Everyone is welcome here; it’s a community place, a neighborhood store.”
Pasquini’s takes the good neighbor approach by hosting fundraisers to benefit community organizations.
“We do fundraisers every Monday night for community organizations,” says Pasquini. “The organization we’re working with uses their network to promote the fundraiser and we, in turn, give them 20 percent of our sales for that evening. It’s a winning situation for everyone.”
As previously mentioned, Pasquini takes great pains to ensure his fare is fresh and made in house. “We make just about everything here,” he says. “We make our own meatballs, lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, chicken Parmesan, ravioli, sauces. ... We make our own bread. Since I used to have a bakery, that’s easy for us to do. And when I closed the bakery, I kept my pastry chef and he now works out of one of our locations and supplies the stores the best he can with desserts. We make these great pastries ourselves as a way to differentiate ourselves. It’s very important to find a way to differentiate yourself these days.”
Another point of difference for Pasquini’s is its focus on catering. While many pizza companies are looking to corporate accounts (see our corporate catering article on page 86 for more information) as a way to grow sales, Pasquini’s is unusual for a company its size: it has created a position that’s dedicated solely to drumming up catering business.
“We have a full-time catering rep who goes out and knocks on doors and makes calls,” says Pasquini. “We call it ‘casual catering,’ and it’s a good generator for us.”
Another good generator is the bar area, which contributes from 10 to 20 percent of each store’s revenue, depending on the location.
“It really depends on the neighborhood,” Pasquini says of the bar business. “At our Highlands store, it’s almost 20 percent. But the bar isn’t the focus of what we do. What it really does is provide one more reason for people to come in and have a pizza. That’s the key.”
Speaking of pizza, the pies at Pasquini’s are done in the traditional, New York-style vein. The dough is made in house and hand tossed, and the emphasis is on freshness and quality.
“I don’t like to stay static,” says Pasquini, “so I’m always looking for new ideas. When we started, it was just pizza and calzones, and then we grew it from there.”
The process has worked — each store opening has exceeded sales expectations early on.
“We have such a name in the area,” says Pasquini. “When we finally opened our second store, its sales matched the original in the first month.”
The driver behind it is the marketing, which Pasquini studied in college and oversees. The weapon of choice? Direct mail. “It’s the major thing for us,” says Pasquini. “We send out direct mail to every household in our delivery area every quarter. Every business and every household in our area gets our flyer.”
The delivery area is typically a 1.5-mile radius from the store. Pasquini staggers the mailing to make it more economical — he sends out flyers weekly, and that allows him to slowly cover the entire territory each month.
“We send out about 50,000 per month,” adds Pasquini. “We always ask the diners at the tables how they heard about us, so we know anecdotally and sales-wise that it works.”
The response isn’t immediate, however. Says Pasquini: “By the third or fourth time you send it is when you get the return. For us, it generates at least $10,000 to $20,000 in extra sales for the month.”
A lack of marketing, in fact, is the downfall of many independent pizza operations. Pasquini says that’s because many small operators simply don’t understand it.
“Most people open their restaurant and spend all the money on equipment and maybe some grand opening marketing, and then they have no budget left for marketing,” he says. “They think they can just open the doors and hope that people will show up, and then they don’t.”
Pasquini learned that lesson for himself in the 1980s when building his business slowly. “Before I opened I went to the bank in my suit, and they said no,” he recalls. “I finally got the money to get going, and all the equipment I needed was there, along with nine Formica-topped tables. I bought two to three days worth of supplies and opened up.”
The ‘build it and they will come’ mantra didn’t apply to Pasquini’s. “I walked up and down the street and handed out business cards for a free slice to get people in the door,” recalls Pasquini. “It took me five years to build it up.”
Hold the Gluten, Please
In response to the growing attention being given to gluten-free products, Pasquini’s has created a gluten-free menu for the convenience of its customers. While it doesn’t contain pizza, it does offer a variety of options for those seeking a non-gluten meal. Here’s a quick look at the offerings:
❖ Roasted Asparagus, $5.50
❖ Antipasto, $6.95 (small), $8.95 (large)
❖ Gluten-free Fettucine, $9.95
❖ Arugula Salad, $6.75 (small), $8.75 (large)
❖ Walnut Pear Salad, $6.25 (small), $8.25 (large)
❖ Chevre Salad, $6.25 (small), $8.25 (large)
❖ Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce, $3.95
❖ Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake, $5.95
The catering menu, meanwhile, features:
❖ Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, $60 (12 people)
❖ Chicken Parmesan, $139.95 (12 people)
❖ Bruschetta Tray, $69.95 (15 people)
❖ Italian Sub Tray, $79.95 (12 people) ❖
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.
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