Charles Morrison is CEO of Pizza Inn, the buffet chain based in The Colony, Texas. Ranked No. 19 on our annual list of America’s Top 100 Pizza Companies, Pizza Inn reported more than $150 million in sales last year. Morrison, a former director of strategic planning at Pizza Hut and former president of Steak and Ale, was appointed president and CEO of Pizza Inn in December 2007.
PT: What were the primary challenges you faced when you took over as CEO just over a year ago?
CM: The biggest was just our concept and how we needed to make it more relevant to a broader audience, meaning both in terms of customers and franchisees alike. We rolled out a new concept in Denton, Texas, where we re-integrated delivery back into the concept and put more of a nostalgic feel back into Pizza Inn. We had moved away from that over the years. The new prototype has been a great success.
PT: Aside from the prototype’s successful launch, what do you consider to be the biggest accomplishments of the last year?
CM: We implemented a back-to-basics program with our franchisees that included everything from service execution to the dough and the quality of our product. It’s been very successful.
PT: Does this economy favor buffet concepts?
CM: Absolutely. I think our concept in particular can weather this economic storm very well. For $5.99 typically, plus a drink, we offer a variety of fresh-made pizzas on two types of crust, thick and thin, plus fresh salad and desserts — which we call ‘Pizzerts’. All that comes at a very attractive price — plus kids eat free on Tuesdays in many of our restaurants. We feel like our affordability and our high quality make a very strong value proposition.
PT: How did Pizza Inn celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2008?
CM: We celebrated it by bringing back our famed mascot, Jo Jo. He will appear in the restaurants as we migrate to change the look and feel of them. Our customers and franchisees alike have been very excited about him coming back. We can get a lot of play out of him.
PT: How many stores do you plan to open in 2009?
CM: I think in the next year you’ll see us bring more company owned stores and more franchised stores into play. I haven’t given any guidance on that yet in terms of a number, but we’re excited about the new look and feel and we’ll add a number of new stores before our fiscal year ends, which is in June. I think the new restaurant prototype will be a catalyst, and I anticipate that you’ll see a lot of new stores opening in the future.