Russo’s Restaurants, the family of dining concepts that includes Russo’s New York Pizzeria and Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen, announced plans to significantly enhance the brands’ U.S. and international presence in 2014.


Evidencing the excitement around both brands, Russo’s plans to open an additional 12-15 restaurants in 2014 throughout markets such as Dallas, Houston, Honolulu, San Antonio, Austin, and, in the Middle East, in Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Currently, there are 26 Russo’s Restaurants in development.


“This year has been an exciting one,” says chef Anthony Russo, a formally trained chef who opened his first Russo’s New York Pizzeria in 1992 and later developed Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen. “We’ve opened several new restaurants and signed more agreements for future Russo’s locations. We’ve also unveiled some impressive plans for a new corporate headquarters, hired a seasoned director of franchising, and we’re working on a new look for our concepts.”


Catapulting Russo’s domestic and international growth planned for 2014 is franchising veteran Alfred Naddaff, the original franchising director of Boston Chicken Inc. and founding member of Einstein Bros. Bagels. He recently joined the Russo’s franchising team as the director of franchise development.


This news comes on the heels of a growing year for Russo’s Restaurants. In 2013, Russo’s signed agreements to open four new restaurants in the U.S. and opened six restaurants. The year ahead represents the brand’s most aggressive growth phase yet.


“We have excellent opportunities in fantastic U.S. markets for franchise growth,” Russo says. “For those looking to develop three or more units of one of the best pizza concepts or a distinctive full-service Italian restaurant, our flexible incentives are sure to impress. Our pilot program is designed for a franchisee that is looking for a great opportunity to own part of a brand that is built to stand the test of time–a pair of proven concepts.”


Franchisees have found success in Russo’s proven concepts–the New York Pizzeria is family-style casual, and the Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen is a bit more upscale full-service concept.


“Our gross sales in our first full month were $800-$900 per square foot in less than 2,700 square feet,” says Brad Davis, who is a partial owner of Russo’s New York Pizzeria in Pflugerville, Texas, near Austin. “We benefited greatly from the top-notch training program, ongoing franchisor support, and the convenience of tapping into Russo’s resources and proven concepts—we’re actually planning on opening more locations in our area.”


From traditional Italian appetizers like bruschetta and fried calamari to coal-fired pizzas, homemade pastas and a dessert selection, diners at the New York Pizzeria run an average of $23 per check. Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen diners spend an average of $42 per check.


“I have prior restaurant ownership know-how, but I have never had as positive of an experience in the restaurant business as I have had with Russo’s,” says Richard Martinez, who co-owns a Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Right now, we’re averaging $44,000 per week in sales–our guests love our house-made pastas, fresh seafood, and gluten-free options. We’re at 22 percent food cost in under 3,200 square feet of space, which drives more profit to the bottom line.”


Menu innovation is at the heart of Russo’s Restaurants’ successes. Blending generations of Russo family Italian recipes, Chef Anthony’s handpicked ingredients and a commitment to research and development, the brands have continued to stay ahead of culinary trends. A prime example is the development of a full line of gluten free pizzas–a sincere response to the request for gluten-free pizza from thousands living with Celiac disease.


Additionally, Russo’s has broken ground on a new corporate support center in the Houston area. The 10,000-square-foot office is equipped with a gourmet training kitchen and a research and development center.


One of Russo’s most exciting locations in development is off of Highway 10 in Houston. The new restaurant will have a brand-new look, which will serve as the prototype of future Russo’s Restaurants. Construction is estimated to begin in February of 2014.


Russo’s New York Pizzeria and Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen trace their origins to a tight-knit family where the kitchen was the center of all activity. As a young child, chef Anthony helped his grandmother role dough for cannolis, carefully wrapping it around four-inch wooden broomsticks to get the right shape before it cooked. By the age of 12 Anthony was learning authentic Italian recipes. Earning the Chef’s distinction as an 18-year-old, Anthony honed his skills as a culinary expert working in his parent’s fine Italian restaurant and then opened his own pizzeria while still a young man.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Growth, News, Pizza, Russo's