Some other details, however, show Capriotti’s mindset and how it differs from the pack, which is to think more in terms of brand evolution than brand rebooting.
One example involves Capriotti’s famous turkey ovens. Loyal guests know the chain cooks special turkeys (Butterball makes a line just for Capriotti’s) each night, and shreds for every sandwich. Yet that wasn’t clear to the average customer, and definitely not in new markets where guests didn’t have decades of affinity built in already.
Capriotti’s decided to move the ovens and refrigerators to the front of units, providing diners with more transparency and turning a brand differentiator into a theatric element. The hood is also wrapped in a sign that says “slow roasted right here.”
“Those little cues make a big difference in terms of people being able to see what you stand for,” Bloom says. “People want visibility into what you’re doing and they’re not always paying a lot of attention because they’re busy. So by doing little changes like that, we’re starting to get better results in terms of people understanding what we’re doing. And that’s resulting in higher revenues.”
Capriotti’s has been on a journey to shrink new store’s footprints, too. The smaller update is closer to 1,400 square feet than the old 1,800. There was really no need to have that extra space, Bloom says. Not when delivery and take-out continue to carve a larger slice of the business. Instead of 60–80 seats, 40–45 does the trick, he says. “And the reality is those restaurants are more efficient in the back of the house as well because when you tighten things up, it’s just easier to operate from a management standpoint,” Bloom says.
“All of this ties together and we’re going to keep learning from everything we change,” he adds. “And we’re going to keep changing.”
As Capriotti’s tracks toward its 500-unit goal, brand awareness remains a compelling challenge. With four decades of equity, there’s plenty of story to tell. But beyond just explaining Capriotti’s past and product to customers, the brand needs to engage operators if it wants to scale quickly. They need to buy in as well. Capriotti’s unit-level economics are the biggest draw, but so is potential and proof that guests respond past the honeymoon stage, and the store can sustain volume once the local-store marketing efforts taper off after grand opening.
Bloom says Capriotti’s has never lost sight of this task because of where its current management comes from. Ashley Morris and Jason Smylie, CEO and president, respectively, grew fond of the chain during their undergraduate days at UNLV. In 2005, they became multi-unit operators and eventually bought the brand from Capriotti’s founder in 2008.
Why this unfolded speaks to Capriotti’s goals and potential. Morris wanted to open more locations but couldn’t get the green light from its owners. They were afraid new units would cannibalize existing ones. “They wouldn’t allow us to build 30, wouldn’t allow us to build 20, wouldn’t allow us to build 10 … I got sick of hearing ‘no,’ so we said, ‘If you won’t allow us to buy a territory, why don’t we just buy you out?’” Morris told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in January 2016.
Ever since, franchising has played a heavy hand in Capriotti’s infrastructure. David Barr and Shelly Sun, two prominent franchising figures, became investors the same year. Barr brought a wealth of experience from YUM! Brands, operating 23 KFC and Taco Bell units. Sun was the former chair of the International Franchise Association and CEO, CFE, and co-founder of BrightStar Franchising LLC.