Despite a year where the recession choked many businesses, Straw Hat Restaurants' 50 percent sales growth, along with its jump to 64 units from 38, earned the chain two industry awards.
Last month, Straw Hat Restaurants was named a "2009 Pizza Industry Enterprise Award" winner. The chain also was named the fifth fastest-growing restaurant company with sales between $25 million and $50 million, according to Technomic Inc.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009, Straw Hat has long held to its original family-friendly, community-focused, California pizza concept. It's a strategy that's served the company well, especially during the recession, says president Jonathan Fornaci, who was brought on in 2006. The San Ramon, California–based chain grew its sales to $40 million (up 50.9 percent) in the last year. Aggressive expansion plans also are slated to roll out in the next two years. Within two years, it should reach 150 restaurants.
"We are honored to receive these awards, because they speak to our determination to meet the needs of the American family and offer them a place to gather and dine, especially during these difficult times," Fornaci says. "During a year in which restaurateurs and entrepreneurs were advised to wait until the economy improved, we were able to sign on many new owners who saw immediate success in their investments."
Once touted as California's largest pizza chain, Straw Hat sold many of its stores in the late 1980s, but now is aggressively ramping up again. Started in 1959, Fornaci says that the 100 percent franchised company runs only one corporate store, dedicating all of its energy to helping its franchisees.
"We hold extensive training programs and send out separate teams that help with marketing and sales," Fornaci says. "We use a national distributor that helps guarantee that everything is fresh; our dough is made every day in the stores, vegetables are cut fresh, and none of our menu items have ever contained trans fats."
Straw Hat, which has historically been in California, is embarking on a national expansion to Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, and beyond.