The concept has spent the past 15 years elevating ambience, integrating consumer-facing technology, and enlarging the menu. However, what remained the same was the brand’s commitment to fresh, made-from-scratch preparation, the CEO notes.
Two franchisees have recently signed on with interest to open multiple locations—one with a background in hotels and fast casuals and the other with development experience. Prior involvement with restaurants isn’t necessarily a requirement; Uberrito is currently in talks with a couple that includes an accounting firm president and hospital CEO.
“We're looking for people that have passion about what they do right now and obviously they love our food,” Pascuzzi says. “If you're not passionate about what we're going to sell, you're not going to be a passionate franchisee or probably a successful one.”
With off-premises now occupying 66 percent of sales, future store designs will be built around the on-the-go consumer. As opposed to the larger 2,800-square-feet stores that sit 80 to 90 people and have patios, Pascuzzi envisions roughly 2,200 to 2,400 square feet with double drive-thru lanes. The inside lane would be for mobile orders while the other lane would be the traditional drive-thru lane with a menu board. If real estate doesn’t allow for a pickup window, the chain could downsize to 1,800 square feet, dramatically reducing occupancy and staffing costs and opening up conversion opportunities.
“That way we can keep the efficiency and speed for those orders that are prepaid and just need to grab and go, and those people who maybe didn't take time to order it or download the app can still enjoy a drive-thru lane experience,” Pascuzzi says.
In addition to franchise growth, Uberrito plans to open two company sites per year in the Houston area to support operators, increase exposure, and contribute to the marketing fund. The brand also ordered a Ford step van to serve as its first food truck. The vehicle will primarily be used to create buzz for franchises prior to store openings. Uberrito will draw customers in with samples and encourage interested guests to download the mobile and sign up for the rewards program. Additionally, the food truck will be used for philanthropic purposes, such as charity fundraisers or helping to feed first responders after a natural disaster. A second truck may be added if the chain starts seeing traction.
Pascuzzi says Uberrito will also use the truck to test new markets, similar to how brands leverage ghost kitchens in underpenetrated areas.
“We do a lot of market research before going in,” the CEO says. “[I’m] fairly comfortable that our food will be accepted everywhere, but we'll use it to do that market study just to validate the statistics and the numbers that we're basing our decision on. We’re also letting the franchisee use it when they’re under construction for their hiring and recruiting needs. Driving a food truck around, especially parking it across from possibly a competitor and giving out free food and signing up mobile apps, restaurants that are being built will generate a lot of buzz and goodwill.”