Cover Story September/October 2019

Expanding One Slice at a Time

This June marks the one-year anniversary of FDF Brandz acquiring Famoso Italian Pizzeria + Bar, and the party is just getting started. “Our acquisition of Famoso was done with the intended strategy of acquiring a well-positioned, emerging growth brand that we could strategically revamp, putting it on a course of more accelerated growth,” explains Frank Di Benedetto, CEO and owner of FDF Brandz.

And grow is what they intend to do. From the opening of new locations to growing new markets, to new franchise development models to going international, Famoso, under the umbrella of FDF Brandz, a privately held restaurant franchising company in Canada, is positioned to do just that.

Di Benedetto says he sees significant growth potential in the chain that was started by three young restaurant entrepreneurs and is confident that the time is right for FDF Brandz to use its management franchising experience to take the chain to a new and higher level.

From humble beginnings

In the ferociously competitive restaurant sector, it takes ingenuity, stamina, and a keen sense of what customers want in order to climb to the top. Staying on top is even more difficult, but Di Benedetto says that’s exactly what Famoso Italian Pizzeria + Bar has achieved since its first location was launched in Edmonton, Alberta in 2007.

It all started with a trip to Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza, by one of the original co-founders in 2005. By chance, he happened across a pizzeria, ordered a margherita pizza and beer, and was overwhelmed by the fresh, simple taste. It took more than two years of intense development to create Famoso: importing large bell ovens from Italy, sourcing authentic ingredients from various regions, and training in traditional pizza making, in Naples.

“Because of all that, whether you eat authentic Neapolitan pizza on the streets of Naples or at a local Famoso, it’s an unforgettable experience,” says Di Benedetto.

Authenticity on the menu

Famoso Italian Pizzeria + Bar, which was known as Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria before becoming part of the FDF Brandz family, is on course to deliver to customers even more of the authentic Italian food and dining experience than ever since becoming part of the larger FDF Brandz group.

“The name change was very deliberate,” Di Benedetto shares. “It communicates that the restaurants have more than just authentic pizza on the menu. To grow the brand, we needed to make some subtle yet obvious changes, like infusing more Italian culture into the brand, from menu management to strategic design.”

Nancy Celetti, Vice President of Marketing, elaborates on this idea. “Maintaining the authenticity of the brand is key, but also injecting more Italian culture and more Italian options was part of the expansion plan for Famoso to be more than just a pizzeria.”

This is evident in the recently revamped menu, which adheres to the traditional, authentic ingredient concept, and includes an expansion of the tapas menu. The new tapas and appetizer options lend themselves well to sharing, which is very much an Italian tradition. As well, a new style of Italian sandwiches, pastas, and for the first time at Famoso, dinner entrees have been added.

From “pie in the sky” to pie on the plate: new thick-crust pizza

Something that has the whole Famoso team excited is the introduction of a new kind of pizza: New York­ Sicilian Style thick-crust pizza. “We see this as a great opportunity for Famoso,” Di Benedetto shares. “Sicilian thick-crust pizza is very popular in Italy and abroad. We wanted to do something that was very authentic, but was identifiable to North Americans, going back to 1900s New York City.”

Putting this pizza on the menu was a big undertaking for the whole Famoso team, and it’s something that will benefit not only in-store diners, but will also work well in the ever-growing third-party delivery market.  “Thick-crust pizza provides ‘at-home’ diners with a wider variety of pizza selection, and holds heat well during travel. Bringing a great pizza experience to your dinner table has never been easier,” says Di Benedetto.

Growth is a key ingredient

If expanding the menu hasn’t made Famoso and FDF Brandz busy enough, the company is targeting to expand Famoso by 20 new locations in Western Canada alone over the next five to six years, which is a projection of three to four openings per year in the west. In a recent press release, FDF Brandz announced that seven new locations will open before June 30, 2020, surpassing original growth projections.

A key contributor to Famoso’s growth plan is its unique position of being a “chain, non-chain” brand. “Famoso benefits from all of the elements of a larger chain in terms of consistency and franchisee support. However, because of its European-style food and the busy communal ambience of each pizzeria, Famoso is viewed as an integral part of the community and the neighbourhood pizzeria that everyone loves to come to,” says Celetti.

This provides potential new Famoso franchisees the unique opportunity of having a proven brand in their own backyard. And FDF Brandz provides their franchisees with best-in-class support and training, as well as opportunities to be involved in the overall strategy for their brand. “We’ve had a lot of collaboration with our franchisees over the past 10 months,” says Di Benedetto. He notes that franchisee satisfaction is high on the FDF Brandz priority list, and they’ve been encouraged by the open enthusiasm their franchisees have displayed through the strategic revamp over the past year, and are looking forward to further sales growth.

Looking to the east

Since opening the first location in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto, at the corner of Bloor just west of Spadina, Famoso knew the Ontario market had significant potential for the premium casual Italian pizzeria and bar chain. This was quickly followed up with another location opening in Waterloo Town Square in Kitchener-Waterloo in 2014.

Dean and Chad Labreche, who own and actively manage the two Ontario locations, couldn’t be happier with their new FDF Brandz family. The Labreche brothers quickly ascertained the sense of community and leadership that FDF Brandz fosters among its brands. “Communication is great – response time on things, strong leadership in every department,” shares Chad. “Everything that we’re involved with has just been escalated to a higher level of professionalism since joining the FDF team.”

When discussing the launch of thick crust pizza, the Labreche brothers are excited for what this menu addition means. “We know we need to be competitive on the delivery side of things. Once again, this is another ideal example of how FDF Brandz sees something, realizes the potential of it, and then adapts, changes, and grows to satisfy that need, that demand,” Dean shares. “They see it, they research it, and they act on it. We’ve seen tons of great changes already that are going to keep us competitive.”

One of the next key steps in the Famoso growth story is further growing their presence in the Ontario market. To achieve this goal, Famoso is keeping it in the family with the Labreche Group, headed by Chad and Dean Labreche, as the franchise development agents of Famoso in the Ontario marketplace. “As owners and operators of two successful Famoso locations, the Labreche brothers were a natural fit to expand the Famoso brand into this dynamic market with them as franchise developers,” notes Di Benedetto.

The Labreche brothers see the valuable strategic alliance that being part of a larger restaurant umbrella brings as well. “Frank and his team, and Frank’s decades of experience, formed the base of this alliance,” notes Chad. “The idea of Famoso, where it was and where it will be in another couple of months even – it’s mind-blowing, for a chain like ours that was so specific, so Neapolitan focused, to be expanding like this.”

“We see this as a great opportunity for Famoso. Sicilian thick-crust pizza is very popular in Italy and abroad. We wanted to do something that was very authentic, but was identifiable to North Americans, going back to 1900s New York City.” 

Bigger isn’t always better

FDF Brandz was also quick to see the market need for a more express-style franchise format, thus launching Famoso Pronto – a streamlined fast casual franchise model. Famoso Pronto boasts a smaller 1,200-1,600 square foot space, is based on Famoso’s proven menu, and offers a lower investment in combination with quick table turns to maximize profitability.

Ideal for higher density urban market areas, the first Famoso Pronto is currently being developed in Edmonton, Alberta, with another location planned to open by the end of the year in Vancouver, British Columbia. Di Benedetto says FDF Brandz sees Pronto as a true complement to the current full service, fully licensed Famoso pizzerias.

From Canada to the world

Seeing the growth potential as boundless, FDF Brandz plans to take Famoso international, taking advantage of the popularity of Italian food and pizza all over the world. “Our vision is to have Famoso in every major city that we can take Famoso to,” Di Benedetto shares, noting that there are plans to target the Asia-Pacific and European markets, as well as working towards breaking into the U.S. market.

“We’ve got a great team of people, and we’re fully committed. We feel that the Famoso brand has been very well received in Western Canada, and it’s got a wonderful opportunity to grow beyond the borders of Canada,” says Di Benedetto. “We know we’ve got the right brand, the right product – ‘the world is our pizza’ – and we’ve only just begun.

Both Famoso and FDF Brandz are also franchising award winners, with Famoso receiving the Franchisees’ Choice designation from the Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) from 2017 to 2019, and FDF Brandz reaching the 20-year CFA membership milestone in 2019.

Covering the bases

FDF Brandz is also actively growing its restaurant folio in 2019 with 10 new locations for Fatburger Canada and four new locations for Ricky’s Family-Style Restaurants, Ricky’s All Day Grill, Ricky’s Country and Ricky’s hotel partners.

Di Benedetto says that with Fatburger Canada in the premium burger fast casual category, Ricky’s covering family style and breakfast, and now with Famoso Pizzeria + Bar representing the premium casual pizzeria and bar segment, FDF Brandz truly is covering key categories in restaurant franchising.

By Jessica Burgess 

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