Marco’s Pizza may have christened its new test kitchen this summer with the conception and market introduction of two well-received brownie flavors, but executives of the 640-unit franchise are also using the culinary lab to develop and perfect assets of a much grander nature—its people.
So far, the test kitchen—part of a new 3,500-square-foot corporate training facility—has a strong track record with the successful rollout of the S'mores and Double Chocolate brownies, both made with premium Ghirardelli chocolate. Marco’s Pizza customers raved about the extra rich and intense flavor of the brownies, saying they stood apart from other pizza brand desserts.
“We’re fanatical about creating the perfect pie, and the new dessert products proved to live up to the same high culinary standards as our pizzas,” says Bryon Stephens, Marco’s Pizza president and COO. “We will apply that quality standard to every product we test in the kitchen before it goes to market. Likewise, we are investing substantial resources in attracting and developing quality people to own, manage, and work in our stores.”
In addition to serving as a home base for research and testing of kitchen equipment and development of menu items, Stephens says the test kitchen plays a significant role in “people development.” For example, the test kitchen serves as part of the brand’s Introduction to Operational Excellence training program for new and existing franchisees. The hands-on program, replacing old-school “death by PowerPoint” training techniques, ensures every trainee knows how to produce the perfect pizza.
Among other quality standard attributes, trainees learn to spot a pizza not up to par, and know how to fix it. They later spend several weeks working in stores before coming back to the kitchen for “finals,” which includes cooking up the perfect pizza and serving it to the corporate office staff, including C-level executives.
“It’s our goal to set the industry standard and create an environment that enables training specific to our brand,” says Tony Libardi, executive vice president of operations. “We’re aiming to create an entirely new experience for our franchisees. Within the first week, new owners will be fully immersed in Marco’s culture and operations.”
With plans to open 150 new stores this year, averaging one new store opening every other day, the company is on track to quadruple its store count in the coming 5–7 years. Recently, Marco’s Pizza finalized deals to open 400 stores in India over the next 10 years, as well as 40 stores in Puerto Rico over the next nine years. By the end of the year, the company plans to have more than 725 restaurants open in three countries. As the brand continues its rapid expansion, the test kitchen will serve as a resource to fuel continued innovation and quality standard compliance.
As the only national franchise chain founded by a native Italian, the company has made a name for itself in the bourgeoning pizza industry by producing fresh, authentic, handmade pizza. Known for its fresh dough made daily on site, a proprietary three-cheese blend that is fresh never-frozen, and a secret pizza sauce recipe, its success and rapid growth is a result of its strong corporate backing, ability to take market share, unit-level profitability, its Italian food standards, as well as its ability to attract top talent among its franchisees and support center staff.