10 Chain Innovators: KONO Pizza

Americans never seem to tire of pizza, and based on the recent surge in fast-casual pizza upstarts, the industry keeps creating new ways to give it to them in ever more convenient formats. Now comes something completely different. KONO Pizza, which opened its first unit last summer in Edison, N.J., not only takes pizza into QSR territory, it also offers a whole new type of product — pizza in a cone.

Capitalizing on consumers’ desire to eat on the run, KONO Pizza offers menu items that a person needs only one hand to eat.Discovered on a trip to Italy by partners David Ragosa, Carlo Ruggiero and Greg Kinlaw, KONO Pizza seemed a perfect fit for America's pizza-loving, convenience-driven consumer. With the brand already touting 130 locations in 20 countries, the trio struck a deal with its founder, Italian master chef Rossano Boscolo, for U.S. franchising rights and established the KONO USA franchise company.

"We had been seeing big companies coming out with new food-on-the-go concepts, like KFC's Go Cups that fit in your car's cup holder," Ruggiero says. "Our product taps that trend. You only need one hand to eat it."

The cones consist of preshaped, par-baked crispy dough. Staff fill the cones to order with fresh ingredients and use specialized ovens to bake them in 90 seconds. Pizza cones come in several flavors — margherita, carni, vegetariano, bianco, pollo parmigiana and pepperoni — and staff can customize them to meet individual tastes. Featuring a thinner crust and low-moisture cheese, the pizza cones have 250 to 280 calories each, says Ruggiero.

The menu also features Deli Cones filled with sandwich meats, vegetables and cheeses; Breakfast Cones with eggs, cheese and breakfast meats; and Sweet Cones with Nutella, fruits, nuts and tiramisu cream. The menu also includes side salads, Italian roast coffee and soft drinks.

Kono-Pizza-ovenConsumers can choose from pizza, deli, dessert and even breakfast cones at KONO Pizza. Staff make items to order and bake each cone in 90 seconds.KONO USA franchises traditional stores, kiosks and food trucks. The store prototype calls for 1,000 to 2,000 square feet designed with a contemporary, European aesthetic and community tables with iPads. Kitchens are simple, with two to three of the specialized ovens per unit being the only necessary cooking equipment.

The company plans to open 2 units in Raleigh, N.C., in early 2014, and has franchisees in San Diego, Calif., and Long Island, N.Y., with 15 units in the pipeline as of late 2013. "We also have strong interest from people in northern New Jersey and Houston, Texas," Ruggiero says, "Within the next couple of years our goal is to have 30 to 40 units sold. Given the simplicity of our operations and our relatively low cost of opening, we think that's realistic."

Quick Look

  • HQ: Raleigh, N.C.
  • KONO USA Founders: Carlo Ruggiero, David Ragosa, Greg Kinlaw
  • Menu specialties: Cones (pizza, deli, dessert and breakfast varieties)
  • Segment: QSR
  • Units: 1 open, 15 in development
  • Average unit volume: est. $350,000 to $450,000
  • Website: konopizza.com
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