Q&A: Tony Libardi, executive vice president of operations, Marco’s Pizza

Eleven years ago, it was mainly Ohioans that were familiar with Marco's Pizza. Today, with some 630 restaurants from coast to coast, the chain continues to deliver on CEO and owner Jack Butorac's goal of nationalizing the brand and growing the concept.

The Marco’s Pizza concept can fit into any local area demographic, with operations ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 square feet."There will be 60 more locations built before the end of this year and 180 sites added in 2016," says Tony Libardi, executive vice president of operations. "We're on a mission to get to the next level with thousands of stores." Marco's plans to open operations in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Canada, India, and the United Arab Emirates as well as countries in Africa.

With close to $311 million in U.S. sales last year, the 37-year-old chain ranked 11th in revenue in the pizza segment, according to Technomic. This was an increase of more than 30 percent from 2013. FE&S spoke with Libardi about what makes Marco's Pizza's unique, how it has successfully broken into new markets and the key equipment that supports its menu.

FE&S: Can you describe how the Marco's Pizza concept has evolved since its creation 37 years ago?

TL: This is a concept that continues to develop. It started in 1978 as a traditional in-home pizza delivery company, but as business has expanded into other states and markets, we've added full-service restaurants with between 100 and 120 seats and some with bar service.

FE&S: In the competitive pizza arena, it can be difficult to set a restaurant apart from others. What makes Marco's unique?

TL: We're proud of our pizza but are now looking at a couple new food platforms that will continue to expand our portfolio. Marcos-Pizza-kitchenMarco’s Pizza has standard pizza kitchens with double- and triple-stack ovens, make tables and sub/salad refrigeration lines.The majority of sales come from our traditional and specialty pizza. We have 20 gourmet varieties on the menu, some of which are limited-time offerings. This includes Chicken Florentine and Pepperoni Magnifico, with two types of pepperoni. Pepperoni remains our biggest seller. Menus also include subs, wings and salads.

FE&S: One thing that helps set Marco's apart is the prototype variations. Describe the different versions of this concept.

TL: This is a brand that can fit into any local area demographic. Our operations range from a 1,000-square-foot site, with a front counter and kitchen that does 80 percent in-home delivery and 20 percent carryout, to our 5,000-square-foot Riverside, Ga., location, which has 130 seats, a full bar, a chopped salad bar and 15 televisions.

FE&S: How does the front-of-house ambiance reflect the brand?

TL: We play off our authentic Italian roots, which are embedded in the concept. Each location includes a signature stone archway above the kitchen. The beige walls are accented by dark wood and dark tiles on the floors. Signature Italian artwork decorates the walls.

FE&S: With outlets ranging from solely delivery and takeout to full service, is the equipment standard at each location?

TL: We have standard pizza kitchens with double- and triple-stack ovens, make tables and sub/salad refrigeration lines. Dough is made from scratch at each site using mixers and dough stretchers, which helps flatten the fresh dough ball to a consistent thickness to remove air bubbles. Proof boxes hold the dough at 60 degrees F. We have walk-in coolers and standup freezers as well.

FE&S: In the pizza segment, it's important to be forward thinking. Are there any changes planned for the brand in the year ahead?

TL: We constantly have one eye on the "Marco's of the Future." We're continually in search of equipment innovations that can help get pizzas to customers more quickly, through efficiencies and speed. Looking ahead, it's important to find the right locations and the right talent to recreate the authentic Italian experience Marco's has been built around. FE&S

 

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