Pizza Patrón’s focus on Hispanic customers has been the foundation of its success,
and it continues to evolve with them.
By Chris Petersen
Anyone who doubts that America is still a great melting pot would do well to look at the story of Pizza Patrón, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016. As Executive Vice President Andrew Gamm explains, the company gained notoriety and success as a pizza chain that catered primarily to a Hispanic customer base, and it continues to grow and evolve along with the nation’s Hispanic population.
CEO and founder Antonio Swad came to Dallas in 1986 looking to get into the restaurant business for himself after spending many years in the industry in New York City. Swad set up shop in a small space in what turned out to be a predominately Mexican-American neighborhood.
Swad noticed almost immediately that there was a need in the marketplace that no other pizza or other quick-service concept was meeting at the time. “What really got the brand started in a unique way was its Hispanic focus, almost from the beginning,” Gamm says. “That’s something that Antonio latched onto in the very beginning.”
For example, Gamm says, Swad noticed that many Hispanic customers would send their children into the store to place their orders because they were ashamed of their English. Swad staffed his first Pizza Patrón location with bilingual employees and produced menus in Spanish and English. From there, the company was off and running, and Pizza Patrón started franchising in 2003. Today, there are 92 Pizza Patrón locations across the Southwest and one in Chicago, 10 of which are company-owned.
In addition to the cross-cultural appeal of the Pizza Patrón concept, Gamm says the company’s success in franchising is due to the relatively simple nature of the concept and its commitment to using the freshest ingredients. With these advantages in place and the company’s ability to continually adapt to the changing demographics of its customer base, Pizza Patrón sees big things in its future.
Pizza Patrón’s Mexican heritage can be found in its menu, which features not only classic pizza toppings but also jalapenos and chorizo. Gamm says the company is committed to using only the best and freshest ingredients, noting that every Pizza Patrón location makes its pizza dough from scratch in the store every day.
The high quality and good value Pizza Patrón offers have made the brand popular with customers, but those aren’t the only reasons why the brand has been popular with franchisees. According to Gamm, Pizza Patrón offers an opportunity to franchisees that is much more manageable than many other quick-service restaurant concepts.
First and foremost, Gamm says, the cost of entry is relatively lower for a Pizza Patrón franchisee, between $200,000 and $250,000. What’s more, operating a Pizza Patrón franchise is much simpler than other concepts, with only around 40 SKUs for franchisees to manage and no specialized equipment to purchase or maintain. The company’s relationship with a national distributor also means franchisees don’t have to worry about managing multiple vendors. All of this adds up to a franchise that is about as simple to operate as it gets.
“This is one that is easily digested and can be quickly duplicated, and I think that’s very appealing to certain developers,” Gamm says of the company’s “self-contained pizza factories.”
Gamm also points to the technology behind Pizza Patrón as another key differentiator that makes life easier for its franchisees. The company has made some significant strides in recent years to up its game on the technology side, investing in a new cloud-based POS system that uses tablets and provides real-time reporting and inventory management to the home office. Gamm says the company also has partnered with PiinPoint for its location intelligence platform to help it better identify the best real estate options.
Not as obvious but no less important a change is how the company is responding to the evolution of its core customer base over the last two decades. Gamm notes that over the past 15 to 20 years, immigration from Mexico has slowed down considerably, and Mexican-Americans have become more acculturated into the larger American tapestry. Although the company’s customer base now includes far more English-speaking customers than it did in 1986, Pizza Patrón continues to emphasize its multicultural concept with promotions such as “Pizza Por Favor,” which gives free pizzas to customers who order in Spanish.
“We’re evolving and becoming a little bit more Americanized than we have been to keep in step with where [our customers] are at today,” Gamm says.
On the Grow
Although Pizza Patrón faces the same challenges in terms of healthcare regulations and minimum wage requirements as the rest of the quick-service restaurant industry, Gamm says the company is poised for greater success in the near future. He says the company is better-equipped for franchising today than it was in 2003, and the company is taking what it has learned and applying it to help it grow its footprint within the markets it already has a presence in.
Thanks to the unique nature of its brand and the experience it has gained on the franchising side of the business, Gamm says Pizza Patrón could add up to 100 new stores in the next couple of years. “The bigger we get, the more awareness there is and the better the stores do,” he says.