Uno Pizzeria Pins Expansion on New Hub-and-Spoke Model
A rendering shows the new look of Uno Pizzeria, which the company is rolling out as part of its hub-and-spoke development model.
When Jim Ilaria joined Uno Pizzeria and Grill in November 2018 the management team was working on a 6,500-square-foot prototype restaurant with the intention of using it to bring the brand into new markets. “And I said that’s not going to work, not where the industry is going, it’s too big,” recalled Ilaria when I sat down with him last week at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference.
Ilaria, who took over as president and CEO after Louie Psallidas stepped down, noted Uno had been closing company stores and the brand was in need of more than a refresh. “Our market research shows there’s still strong brand affinity, but we saw we had a lot of work to do,” said Ilaria, the former CEO of Potomac Family Dining Group, a large Applebee’s franchisee. Based in Boston, Uno has 100 company-owned and franchised locations in 19 states.
Enter Uno’s new hub-and-spoke model, which features a 3,500-square-foot, full-service restaurant whose kitchen doubles as a commissary as the hub, and smaller, 1,200-square-foot fast-casual restaurants that serve as spokes. The company’s master franchisee in India is already rolling out the model and the brand recently debuted the offering to U.S. franchisees at the company’s annual conference. This is how, noted Ilaria, “we’ll repopulate the United States with Uno.”
“I couldn’t be more bullish about where the firm is going … we deserve to be a global brand,” said Ilaria. “We’ve right-sized the box for franchisees to maximize profitability.”
The hub-and-spoke model was developed in conjunction with Daniel del Olmo and his Passionality Group, which serves as a strategic growth partner for hospitality brands.
“When we looked at Uno, we saw heritage that was latent,” said del Olmo, in reference to the brand’s positioning as the inventor of the Chicago deep dish pizza. “The affinity was off the charts … and Jim has a great record of turning round brands.” Del Olmo and his team spent several months refining that brand position as the original deep dish pizza restaurant, then “we looked at the unit economics and arrived at the hub and spoke.”
The hubs will cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million to develop, with spokes carrying a $350,000 cost. “The investments are appealing and we value engineered the prototype,” said del Olmo. The design plays up Uno’s original red color scheme and created room for the execution of third-party delivery.
Uno corporate will develop the first hub and four spokes to start, noted Ilaria. The company isn’t abandoning its bar and grill model, he added, and it will give existing franchisees the right of first refusal to develop hubs and spokes in their markets.
“Franchisees are very excited to have a strategy they can see,” said Ilaria. The brand also launched a “Love All, Feed All” menu earlier this year aimed at diners looking for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-sensitive, dairy-free and other options.