Soon, Pupatella will extend its reach beyond just the D.C. metro area.

The pizza company announced this month that it raised $7.5 million to fund its expansion. The growth strategy includes plans for as many as 15 new locations in the next several years. Pupatella currently has five stores—two in Arlington, Virginia, one in Washington, D.C., and two others in Reston and Richmond, Virginia.

CFO Adam Winder says the timing is right to grow the brand into more neighborhoods. The investors and market have responded to Pupatella’s pizza product with a resounding yes, despite all the trials restaurants underwent throughout the pandemic.

 “The timing perhaps was—for a lot of folks—not typical to raise equity for a restaurant in the face of all the challenges, but we were fortunate to have really good results and really good investors and want to continue to grow and bring the brand to more neighborhoods,” Winder says.

With an AUV of more than $2 million and its recent investment in tow, Pupatella now sets its sights on future locations in West Springfield, Virginia, Fairfax’s Mosaic district in Virginia, and three more sites, including the first unit in Maryland. 

Winder says Pupatella isn’t married to opening in just one market and ultimately will take the best sites available. The brand’s real estate strategy considers both size and building characteristics that would represent the brand well. Every restaurant will be slightly different, each one finding its own fit within the neighborhood it resides. Local communities and their high school students create the Naples-inspired graffiti for every restaurant.

Neighborhood aesthetic aside, what will be consistent is the product—Pupatella’s true differentiator. The brand offers VPN, (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) which is certified Neapolitan pizza crafted by a Naples native with ingredients imported directly from the Italian city. 

Pupatella features red and white pizzas, Italian fried food, and small plates and salads in addition to select wines and craft beers. The pizza dough is prepared with the simplicity of four ingredients, 00 Italian flour, sea salt, fresh yeast, and water. Every pizza is baked in a wood-fired brick oven from Mount Vesuvius, Italy, and cooked in 90 seconds. 

“What I think is quite special is we really have a very traditional product, with imported ingredients, that is driven by a native from Naples that is extremely passionate about the product and the ingredients,” Winder says. “That combined with the leadership team and us building a culture and working together collaboratively to grow the brand, that’s really proven to be a good recipe for us.”

Part of achieving consistent quality means Pupatella must have the right training programs in place for every role.

“The restaurant business, you have to be hands on,” Winder says. “So every site we open, we’re there. We’re looking at the product. We’re making sure the client experience is perfect and they’re conveying the quality, passion, and what needs to be done.”

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With each new store, Pupatella’s ability to open effectively and maintain similar quality becomes a little easier. Those factors are so important to the brand that it decided to focus exclusively on corporate expansion.

The restaurant has one franchise operator in Richmond, but this was a unique situation in which the franchisee was a fan first and foremost.

“We’re 100 percent focused on corporate growth,” Winder says. “The reason being it allows us a bit more control over the quality and the customer experience.”

Pupatella came a long way from its early days as a food truck in 2007. While husband and wife duo Enzo and Anastasia Algarme opened the first brick-and-mortar unit in 2010 in Arlington, Virginia, they quickly realized the value the brand could bring to other neighborhoods. So the couple opened four more restaurants in the D.C. area.

In 2018, Pupatella raised $3.75 million. That investment led to the opening of three stores in the span of 12 months. The restaurants in Reston and Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle successfully debuted in 2020 despite COVID challenges. Many of the investors from 2018 recommitted capital to the chain’s continued growth in this year’s raise. 

That doesn’t mean the authentic pizza brand has not met any challenges along the way. When the pandemic occurred, Pupatella’s business model was flipped upside down.

“Our model was, come wait in line, order your pizza, take your ticket and sit down and have the best pizza in town, hot out of the oven, like it’s intended to be eaten, and with a good beer and some wine and let the kids run around and have fun,” Winder says.

 At the onset of the coronavirus, Pupatella had to make the transition to 100 percent takeout. But the community supported the restaurant. Being in the pizza category, the food lent itself well to takeout. So well that going forward Pupatella will target new locations that have the capability for two ovens serving different consumer needs. Dine-in business is coming back strong in some of Pupatella’s markets depending on consumers’ comfort levels, but there’s still more takeout and delivery than ever.

As a growing concept, Winder says employees recognize the potential growth in their own careers, something that aids Pupatella in handling the labor crisis. These promotional pathways boost team morale as employees have a transparent way to see how they can earn more money and become managers, Winder says.

“We’re very thoughtful about the career path of our team members,” Winder says. “So the team members that join us are passionate about the product and the brand, but know with Pupatella they’re not stagnant because we’re opening more restaurants. We promote from within.”

Winder says he’s never worked with restaurateurs so passionate about the quality and consistency of ingredients and how they are delivered. Pupatella’s team will be key in its growth strategy, with Enzo’s passion for the product ensuring excellence at all future locations, the CFO adds.

“We will not open the store until Enzo is comfortable with the product that’s being there being the same as the original pizzeria and the best pizza outside of Naples,” Winder says.

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, Web Exclusives, Pupatella