Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.

Ones to Watch | By Judy Kneiszel

Tazinos
The fare at Tazinos ranges from pizza to pasta to salad.

Tazinos seems to be a restaurant concept created specifically for the following scenario: Mom wants a nice salad and something healthy for the kids. The kids want pizza but can’t agree on toppings. Dad just wants to eat—now.

The Wisconsin-based pizza-and-salad concept has three locations in the Milwaukee area and a fourth set to open sometime this quarter. The company is poised to start franchising, starting with growth in a close radius around Southeast Wisconsin, says founder Jim Purcell, the 50-year-old whose vision to start a national restaurant chain was called a “midlife crisis” by a Milwaukee newspaper columnist.

But the advantage of being in “mid life” is that Purcell had a lot of experience to draw from in creating Tazinos. At one point in his long foodservice career he owned an independent pizzeria. He also gained a lot of industry knowledge working in foodservice distribution for Yum! Brands.

“I got out of foodservice distribution in 2007 and was looking for opportunities,” he says. “I looked at other franchising opportunities but didn’t see anything available that I felt I could grow with.”

Purcell says he looked around and saw that the carryout/delivery model was where pizza brands were growing, but he wanted to add salad and pasta and expand pizza into lunch and dinner as well.

“Pizza is a pretty broad-appeal food,” he says. “I wanted to find more options for getting the product into consumer hands.”

Though Purcell hates the word “buffet,” that is essentially the type of operation he established. In addition to a variety of traditional and original pizzas, Tazinos has an extensive salad bar with fresh greens and house-made specialty salads like Four-Bean, Tomato Cucumber, and Lo-Mein. Pasta choices include a low-fat option of whole-wheat penne with marinara sauce, a garlic buttered pasta, creamy tomato pasta, pesto pasta, and a variety of other pasta and sauce combinations.

“I like to think of it as a self-serve pizza and salad bistro,” Purcell says. “The focus isn’t on all-you-can-eat—though you can eat all you want—but rather giving people better, faster choices.”

Tazinos works like this: Customers pay $6.99 for lunch and $7.99 for dinner ($3.99 and $4.99 for kids, respectively). The price includes a beverage and whatever combination or amount of pizza, pasta, and salad the diner wants to eat.

None of the food choices contain MSG, trans fats, or high fructose corn syrup. Pizza is available with a 100 percent whole-wheat crust option and the cheese is a blend of part-skim mozzarella, whole-milk mozzarella, and provolone that is always fresh, never frozen, and contains no added starch. The pizza sauce is made from tomatoes that are picked and immediately canned, not turned into concentrate. Spices and seasonings are added to the sauce on site by Tazinos.

“One of the ways we felt we could make a huge impact was by providing products in a better-for-you format with a high-quality taste profile,” Purcell says.

While Tazinos makes every effort to make its food healthier, Purcell says diners won’t necessarily see a lot of signage or marketing materials touting those claims.

“When we launched the brand, we wanted to make sure we hit the taste profiles first, then we tell people it’s better for them,” he says. “If you tell people your food is healthy right away, they’ll assume it costs more and tastes worse. We want people to say they ate as well here as they could eat anywhere.”

The lunch/dinner split at Tazinos is about 60/40 Monday through Friday and close to even on weekends.

Tazinos

President & Founder: Jim Purcell

HQ: Oak Creek, Wisconsin

Year Started: 2008

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Total Units: 3

Franchise Units: 0

Web Site: www.tazinos.com

“Our goal is 50/50 every day,” Purcell says. “Dinner is more of a planned meal, so you have to push harder to bring people in.”

One tactic Tazinos uses to bring in new customers for dinner is event nights, when school groups, youth sport teams, or charities get 10 percent of the receipts.

Tazinos recently started to promote

carryout and is working on a “pizza and drink to go” option to cater to those customers who are in more of a hurry.

“We were heavily weighted toward dining-in at first because we wanted to get people trying types of pizza they wouldn’t ordinarily order,” Purcell says. “The biggest thing is getting people in the doors through networking. We are just trying to get our name out there.”

New flavors are often introduced as the “pizza of the week,” and diners are always informed what the next week’s pizza will be so they can plan a return visit. One week it might be broccoli cheese; the next, nacho pizza.

The nontraditional pizza flavors are proving popular at Tazinos. The best-seller is Buffalo Chicken, which, in addition to pizza cheese, is topped with cheddar and chicken that’s been marinated in Buffalo sauce, plus a ranch sauce. The second-most popular pizza is Chicken Bacon Ranch with cheddar, marinated chicken, smoked bacon, and ranch sauce. Top choices are rounded out by classics like pepperoni and sausage, plus Italian flavors like the Caprese, which consists of a garlic and olive oil–brushed crust, topped with sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil.

If diners don’t see a particular menu item or favorite pizza choice out when they are ready to eat, they can request it.

“With state-of-the-art equipment you can have a pizza coming out in less than four minutes,” Purcell says. “We lean on that ability during slower times of the day … cooking more to specific customer requests so we’re not wasting food.”

Of course, even under the best of circumstances, the downside of a buffet is that there is some waste. But Purcell says the savings on labor more than make up for it.

At peak times a Tazinos is staffed by up to seven employees; four is the minimum required.

Each location has about 140 seats. There are LED TVs so customers don’t have to choose between watching the big game and eating out, and there are chalkboard walls for the kids to decorate.

“It’s a distraction for kids that parents don’t have to put quarters in,” Purcell says.

Because they are trying to be family oriented, Tazinos does not serve alcohol.

“There’s no beer or wine by my choice,” Purcell says. “First of all, every municipality has different rules when it comes to alcohol, and it’s nice not having to worry about whether you have to have someone over 21 at the register or if you have to keep some beverages under lock and key. Also, parents like the fact that we don’t serve alcohol. And it would be harder to do the all-inclusive pricing with beer and wine. We do have 20 different drink options though, so everyone can find something they like.”

Between drink options and pizza flavors, Purcell is taking care of what the modern American family is looking for when they dine out.

“The kids go right to the pizza, the moms go right to the salad bar. Pasta is kind of in the middle,” he says.