Stevi B’s announced that it is rolling out Coca-Cola’s new Freestyle machine to nine of its stores this month as part of the Freestyle pilot program—making it the smallest national quick-service concept to do so.

The 35-unit pizza chain, which, like Coca-Cola, is based in Atlanta, is one of only two quick-serve chains with less than 100 stores to test the beverage-dispensing system. The other is Atlanta concept Willy’s Mexicana Grill.

Matthew Loney, president of Stevi B’s, says the company approached Coca-Cola about testing the Freestyle last year when the machine was beta tested in about 50 restaurants across Georgia and California.

“The beta testing had been filled up at the time,” Loney says. “So we got kind of first in line for the pilot program. … We consider it a great honor, and we’re very excited.”

The Freestyle is a beverage-dispensing system that includes a touch-screen interface for customers to use to select from among 106 different beverage choices.

Coca-Cola’s Freestyle pilot program, launched this month, expands the testing of the machine to more than 500 outlets in four metro areas: Atlanta, San Diego, Salt Lake City, and Dallas.

Other national quick-serve chains testing the Freestyle include McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s, Burger King, Firehouse Subs, Jack in the Box, El Pollo Loco, and Five Guys.

Loney says Stevi B’s is a good match for the Freestyle because its wide variety of pizzas offer a similar theme as the Freestyle.

“We are constantly rolling out new pizzas [and] new taste profiles, and it really worked well with our positioning in that you can now get 106 different drink flavors,” he says.

“There are hundreds of different ways to make our pizzas, and people can specialize how they want to have them made and they can customize them. Now you can customize your drink.”

Stevi B’s persistence to be one of the few brands to test the Freestyle also helped it snare the opportunity.

“What we really showed to Coke was that we really considered this to be very instrumental to the further development of our brand,” Loney says. “We showed them the excitement that we had for the machine, and I think that’s what Coke really was looking for, was people who were going to get really excited for what this machine might do.”

Jim Sanders, director of commercialization for Coca-Cola Freestyle, said in an e-mail to QSR that Stevi B’s is a close customer of Coca-Cola’s.

“We work closely with all of our customers to collaborate and tailor solutions specific to their concept and business needs, regardless of size,” he said. “Coca-Cola Freestyle is an excellent example of [a] business solution that will open new possibilities and business potential for Stevi B’s unique concept.”

Loney says Stevi B’s franchisees are on board with the Freestyle roll out, despite the necessary increases in training, labor, and costs.

“For our existing stores, there was a pretty significant up-front cost because we had drink counters, and this machine stands on the ground,” he says. “So we had to cut our drink counters, which are granite and … have cabinets underneath them. So we had to cut those [and] rebuild the cabinetry.”

One Stevi B’s unit is already operating the Freestyle, and two more will begin operation this weekend. Nine will be operating by the end of the month, but Loney says all Stevi B’s will get one as Coca-Cola expands the availability of the machine.

“These machines are in there permanently, and as the system rolls out, as soon as they’re available for new stores or existing stores, we’re putting them in,” he says.

By Sam Oches

Design, Menu Innovations, News, Stevi B's Pizza