Fazoli’s is rolling out a new fast-casual concept focusing on modern Italian fare, CEO Carl Howard announced at the 2013 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.

While Fazoli’s serves up tradition Italian dishes like pastas, pizzas, and submarinos, the new modern Italian concept will resemble Chipotle in its service and menu models. The point of differentiation, Howard says, is that this new concept will focus on three primary menu platforms instead of one.

The three platforms are the three menu options customers can order: a Piada sandwich, a Pasta Bowl, or a Salad Bowl. After picking the primary menu vehicle, customers then choose among grilled proteins, dressings and sauces, and 23 unique toppings, like fried capers, crispy pancetta, and focaccia croutons. The customer then picks a cheese at a specialized cheese station and chooses a side item, like focaccia sticks or polenta fries with dipping sauce.

Howard says the time was right to open the new concept because the fast-casual Italian segment has a lot of potential that has so far been untapped. He points to brands like Piada’s as being competitors in the segment, but says Fazoli’s new brand will be different because it will franchise.  

San Francisco­–based The Culinary Edge helped Fazoli’s develop the new menu, while Columbus, Ohio­–based WD Partners designed the store prototype and is also working on branding.

Howard hopes that the new concept, which is awaiting a final trademark ruling to finalize its name, will open its first unit by the end of the year. The company is looking at real estate in several urban markets, including in Dallas and Denver, for its first restaurant. He says the new concept will primarily open in in-line end-cap locations.

Meanwhile, Howard has helped stabilize Fazoli’s, which until last year had experienced a decade of closed stores. The now-215-unit chain has had positive comparable sales in 11 of the last 12 months. 

For more updates on this year's NRA Show, check back with QSRmagazine.com, or follow us at @QSRmagazine.

By Sam Oches

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Fast Casual, Growth, News, Fazoli's