You might wonder why a restaurant chain that launched in Edmonton, Canada in 1964 is named Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar. Its original owner said he preferred a name that was easy to pronounce: so Boston it is. And to this day, it’s never opened an eatery in Boston.
And now Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar, which has expanded to 425 locations—390 in Canada, 20 in the U.S. and 15 in Mexico—is on the rise. It opened 11 new locations in 2018 and plans to add nine more in 2019. And it’s focusing on expanding its footprint across the border in the U.S.
It’s growing by franchising. In fact, only one of its eateries in Canada is company-owned, as are three in the U.S. and the remainder are franchised.
As its name suggests, Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar is really a hybrid: part sports bar and part pizzeria and restaurant. Its most popular food items are pepperoni pizza, wings, chicken and shrimp pasta.
Here’s what Addison, Tx.-based Jeff Melnick, president of Boston’s Pizza U.S. operations, said about its growth:
Some might say Boston’s Pizza is misnamed. It’s not located in Boston and offers more than pizza. Your take?
Melnick: It continues to be something we look at from a brand perspective on how it’s perceived. Boston isn’t known for its pizza. And because our menu is so expansive, we have to educate the public and may do some work around our brand and how it’s perceived.
It also seems like a hybrid restaurant chain, part sports bar and part pizzeria. How do you see it?
Melnick: It’s part sports bar and part family dining restaurant with an expansive menu. We have over 80 menu items including pasta, pizza, wings, cauliflower and power bowls.
Where does the sports bar fit in?
Melnick: If you look at our evolution, hockey is so big in Canada, it became the go-to place to hang out and watch hockey. It’s evolved into many events including soccer and football. Now we attract families, which enhance our ability to attract people to dine on premises.
How do you attract women? Most sports bars don’t do a very good job of that.
Melnick: That’s the beauty of our brand. If you were to walk into one, there are two clearly defined areas: the dining room and the sports bar. It’s bifurcated, with TVs everywhere. Families can cheer on their sports favorite, and the area is kid-friendly.
Why has Boston Pizza grown to 425 locations? What’s the secret?
Melnick: It’s the quality of our food, first and foremost. In the U.S., we make everything from scratch. We focus on the food and our franchisees are part of the community. We’re owned and operated by people who live down the street and around the corner. They’re engaged with the schools, the pee-wee leagues, and hockey and gymnastic teams. Being involved in the community helps owner/operators drive traffic.
It’s beloved by Canadians. Why?
Melnick: It’s the largest casual dining restaurant chain in Canada, so everyone grew up with it. It was the closest hang-out in every community. We’re trying to replicate that in the states.
But how do you make Americans fall in love with it?
Melnick: We’ve augmented the menu. Our food is a little spicier. We have a larger range of burgers, and our wing offerings are more expansive. We’re not a “breastaurant,” so we’re appropriate and attractive to families and can attract moms and sports teams.
Americans flock to Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and emerging rivals like MOD Pizza and Blaze Pizza. Why choose Boston’s Pizza?
Melnick: For the quality and atmosphere. Pizza can be a commodity. Many of the chains are focused on off-premises delivery or fast-casual dining. If you want a place to go and relax with great service, that’s why you’d choose our pizza. We prevent the veto vote because we’re not just pizza.
What changes, if any, to the menu has Boston Pizza made in the U.S.?
Melnick: We’ve just renovated our entire menu and brought on several products that are more attractive to lifestyle dining including items for the paleo diet, vegan or vegetarian options. We have a much more well-rounded menu that incorporates flavors from around the world
Where in the U.S. is ripe for expansion that hasn’t been oversaturated?
Melnick: We are concentrating on the Dallas and Fort Worth market as well as the Midwest. We just opened a restaurant this past Monday in Waunakee, Wisconsin.
I didn’t hear you say Boston?
Melnick: Not yet. We will when we have the right franchise partner.
On what basis do you choose locations?
Melnick: It depends on the qualification of the franchisees. They must meet financial qualifications and be someone who has a passion for the industry and hospitality. Then we study the market.
What must you do to ensure quality control?
Melnick: First it comes from serious vetting of that franchise partner. We make sure they’re committed to upholding our standards. Secondly, it’s detailed training that encompasses eight weeks. And we have a team in Dallas that goes out four times a year to work with franchise partners to ensure success.
Jim Treliving is the majority owner. What’s his vision?
Melnick: He wants to bring Boston Pizza to communities across America. But we’re also expanding as fast in Mexico as we are in the US.
How appealing might it be to sell out to a larger rival?
Melnick: I can tell you with absolute assurance. I was with him last week and he said I have no desire to sellout.
Who is the target audience that dines at Boston Pizza?
Melnick: It’s that typical sports bar demographic; men aged 24 to 54, but the other half of our business is younger families.
Next two years, what do you expect to see with Boston Piazza?
Melnick: We’re going to be growing quite quickly. We’ll open one more this year, at least five next year, a 30% growth trajectory in the U.S. and will continue to be as nimble as we can with off premises delivery. We’re going to be one of the stronger players out there as far as execution for guests and being attractive to potential franchise partners.
Describe the three key to Boston Pizza’s success.
Melnick: Great food, a fun family-oriented atmosphere and franchise partners involved in the community.