It’s the same scenario every time a new customer walks into an Eatzi’s Market & Bakery. They walk to the storefront, only to be confused by the restaurant’s unexpected design.
“Everyone can spot it. It’s the same look,” says Eatzi’s CEO Adam Romo of guests’ reactions to the space.
While most restaurant establishments offer a familiar layout of kitchen, counter, and dining room, Eatzi’s is a blend of the three in one space. Customers buy their food directly in front of chefs preparing it at one of multiple stations throughout the restaurant, which doubles as a gourmet grocery. It was a restaurant experience that was unheard of when Phil Romano founded it in 1996.
Romo met Romano while working in the financial sector of restaurant conglomerate Brinker International. When Brinker acquired Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Romano consulted for Brinker on the creation of new concepts and on identifying restaurants to acquire. Throughout the ’90s, the company noticed a void in the marketplace for convenient meal solutions. It created Eatzi’s to offer convenience and speed to a population that wanted gourmet food but didn’t have the time to commit to a full-service experience.
Eatzi's Market & Bakery
FOUNDER: Phil Romano
YEAR STARTED: 1996
ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed
TOTAL UNITS: 6
FRANCHISED UNITS: 0
After spending several years with Eatzi’s, Romo shifted from the food-and-beverage business to the technology industry in time for the internet boom of the early 2000s. While he was gone, the restaurant struggled.
“Eatzi’s was sold to a private equity firm, and then those guys had a lot of trouble running it,” Romo says. “They didn’t really understand it.”
Eatzi’s had changed. It resembled a grocery store rather than the convenient, fresh, gourmet option that made the restaurant popular. The eatery, which had grown to seven locations, eventually shut down all except for the original restaurant in Dallas.
Romano still believed in the original idea despite its failures, and wanted to return the restaurant to its initial configuration. He asked Romo to come back as Eatzi’s CEO in 2011, and one of Romo’s first actions in the role was to administer a guest questionnaire that would identify ways to improve the concept. Customers surveyed five business components: quality, variety, convenience, price value, and theater.
“Those are the critical branding elements that I call our bible, and we don’t stray from that,” Romo says. “Every decision we make is based on those five elements.”
One of the restaurant’s most notable changes after the questionnaire was a revamped menu of more than 4,000 recipes. The wide variety of foods is divided into 11 categories that include Pastry, Hot Grill, and Deli Shop, with items served both hot and cold. These changes have significantly increased sales, and 50 percent of Eatzi’s sales from its top four venues come from items that didn’t exist six years ago. The custom-made sandwich and salad areas are popular among customers, but Romo prefers the ease of the sushi section.
Besides food, elements like theater are manifested in the customer experience. Eatzi’s frequently showcases live opera singers and hosts wine tastings, and customers can see their food prepared right in front of their eyes.
“All that theater is a very high-energy, very fun atmosphere for customers,” Romo says.
Eatzi’s is formatted to provide a prime shopping experience. It has an interior that places food stations in a circular layout to mirror common shopping tendencies. Each of Eatzi’s six locations has an identical interior but ranges in size; large stores measure around 10,000 square feet, and smaller locations measure 5,500 square feet, allowing for easier real estate selection.
The sheer size of Eatzi’s is one of the reasons why Romo is hesitant to franchise the restaurant. He wants to keep the chain based in Dallas-Fort Worth, but he hasn’t laid down specifics yet for expansion. Instead, he’s waiting on the right places with the ideal demographics to materialize for Eatzi’s.
“When you go out into a new city, that obviously makes it a little more difficult because you’re somewhat starting over,” Romo says. “It is definitely much lower risk execution-wise, to continue developing here in Dallas.”
Building a strong customer base comes with challenges—namely achieving the ideal price for Eatzi’s foods. Romo says higher profits must be sacrificed when selling gourmet-quality items at a desirable price. But he prefers a method that charges a little bit less so customers will frequent Eatzi’s more.
Due to the restaurant’s price model, half of Eatzi’s customers frequent the store at least three times a week.
“Think about your favorite Mexican, sushi, or burger restaurant. How many times does somebody really go to those places three times in a week?” Romo says. “It’s rare, right?”
Romo believes that Eatzi’s commitment to its five core tenants will help it prosper. But he says what truly sets the brand apart from its competitors is its variety. At a time when households have infinite options, Eatzi’s aims to be the comprehensive solution.
“You can come to Eatzi’s and everybody can find something they want and like,” Romo says. “We make that easy because we have something for everyone.”