Q&A with David and Carlo, co-founders of Kono Pizza USA
After discovering Kono Pizza during an Italian vacation, serial entrepreneurs David Ragosa and Carlo Ruggiero immediately got to work bringing the QSR concept to the United States.
Originally started in Italy in 2004, Kono Pizza is a different kind of pizza chain, one that's entirely built around a cone—hence the name.
After Carlo's family trip to Italy in 2012, and an excited middle-of-the-night phone call to his long-time friend and business partner David back in the United States, the duo has worked to bring the concept across the pond, with a few significant changes to adapt the restaurant culture to American requirements.
The two entrepreneurs struck a deal to franchise the entire United States, and established the Kono Pizza USA franchise company. Their first corporate location opened in the U.S. in Edison, N.J. in 2013, and the company has since signed franchise deals that will bring at least 17 new restaurants to North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, New Jersey, New York and California this year.
Franchise Times: What was your first impression upon seeing Kono in Italy?
Carlo Ruggiero: My cousin brought me to a Kono Pizza store. I was skeptical about it, because...pizza in a cone. I'm only used to the round pie. I saw the store was packed, it was only 30 square meters, and I saw these cones being cooked in less than two minutes. When I tried it, I was like, "Oh my god." I called David right away and said I think we've found our next big thing. We're going to change the way America eats pizza.
FT: Why did you think this concept would be a good fit back in the states?
CR: In Italy, between the time of 2 and 4, everybody takes a nap—it's siesta time. It's such an American concept, even though it's an Italian food. I saw a portable way that the consumer can enjoy Kono Pizza with one hand walking down the street, being on the phone...it's just the way the food industry is going.
David Ragosa: It's portable, it's mobile, it's unique and authentic Italian pizza on the go. Not only is the QSR industry booming, people are looking for something that's made fresh, something that's made to order that they can customize. It fits all of the characteristics of those models.
FT: What are you two working on at this point?
DR: We have three stores opening up in the next 30 to 60 days. We're actually working non-traditional segments—campuses, airports, universities, event centers. We're working on a few contracts with big national vendors to take this to the next level.
FT: Why have you switched formats to emphasize smaller stores?
DR: Kono lives in a nontraditional world. It's not going to be in suburban America in a strip mall. Kono lives in a high-foot-traffic area, so those areas really fit Kono. We're going to go into events, festivals, event centers, concerts. That's the first phase, and then the universities kind of piggyback off of that as well. Then the second phase is airports, centers like that.
FT: Everything comes in a cone. Is that too restrictive looking ahead?
DR: The cone is versatile. We have dessert cones, breakfast cones, lunch cones... You can put meals in there. You can put traditional mozzarella and tomatoes in the cone. There are so many things you can do with that cone. Who doesn't like pizza? Who doesn't like bread? It can do a lot.
FT: What is your biggest challenge at this point in your growth?
DR: Our biggest challenge is brand awareness. No one really knows Kono yet, so our biggest challenge is pumping marketing and building the brand.
CR: We want to be in the top 10 percent of our field. To achieve that, we're going to ... need 3 to 5 years, at least.