As success comes, the notion of expanding becomes more and more prominent. If you are in the process of growing your bar, restaurant, or brewery beyond the original four walls that put your brand on the map, it’s important to make sure the timing is right and it makes sense to move forward. To provide insight on this topic, we will tap Nick Bogacz, owner of Caliente Pizza & Draft House in Pittsburgh, PA, a brand on the verge of opening their 5th location in just over six years.
The initial leap towards opening a bar, restaurant, or brewery can be daunting. So many things to consider and many, many voices telling you about the trials and tribulations you’re sure to face. Dealing with unruly customers, employees tragically becoming “deathly ill” hours before their shift, controlling costs, maintenance, seasonal dips in business. It takes a special mindset to choose to break into this industry.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s the joy of putting a smile on a customer’s face, making someone’s day by going the extra mile during their visit, working with team members who are dedicated to the success of the your brand, and properly managing your business within reasonable expectations and growing methodically over time.
Once levels of success are met, it’s natural to consider the next step for your enterprise. Do you continue developing your concept and operations where they exist today? Or, do you take your talents to another neighborhood in town, showcasing your brand to a fresh group of clientele who may not venture to your current destination? When considering your next move, it’s imperative to keep your eyes on the prize at your first location as well. The last thing you want is your brand image to slip while doubling the size of your operations.
Nick Bogacz is the mastermind behind Caliente Pizza & Draft House, a brand that’s skyrocketed over the past seven years and boasts locations in the Bloomfield, Hampton Township, Mount Lebanon, Aspinwall, and soon Monroeville neighborhoods surrounding the City of Pittsburgh. Bogacz brought 16 years of experience in the pizza industry to the table when he and his wife, Angie, made the decision to purchase a dilapidated brand known as Caliente Pizza & Bar in Bloomfield. According to Bogacz, the bar was focused on $1.75 domestic light lagers and lacked any identity he wished to build upon.
“We bought Caliente Pizza & Bar in September 2012 and fully intended on changing the name completely,” Bogacz explained. “However, in the first six months, we built the brand so strong and had sales so high, we kept the ‘Caliente Pizza’ part and replaced ‘Bar’ with ‘Draft House.’ We did everything to shift the existing brand image, from changing the tap system to new coats of paint in the restaurant to a new menu to a better beer selection. Everything.”
One of the most important factors in brand evolution is delivering what your customers want. And thankfully, we live in a world where listening to feedback is easily accessible. Social media, review sites, instant messengers, email…if people are talking to you, it’s because they care. They want to see your business succeed because it gives them another locale to feel at home. With so many options out there vying for a customer’s entertainment buck, you unequivocally have to listen to what they demand of you. If you don’t, someone else will.
In reshaping the Caliente image, Bogacz knew how critical the perspectives of his customers were. And in listening to the feedback they provided, combined with the moniker ‘Draft House’ attached to his name, the next phase in the evolution of Caliente came down to beer.
“I listened to our customers and what they demanded was craft beer,” Bogacz said. “I started reading and learning about the craft beer industry and quickly realized brewers were doing a lot of the same things I was doing with my pizza. They have a passion for what they do and were using the best ingredients they could source. I am very passionate about pizza and we make all of our menu items from scratch with only the best ingredients. Incorporating craft beer was a match made in heaven.”
As tap lists and bottle selection started to improve at Caliente, sales followed. As did increased visibility of the brand. In a craft beer hotbed like Pittsburgh, featuring well-known local, regional, and national brands paired with delicious pizza, wings, and calzones made Caliente a must-visit destination.
The brand evolution was rapid, but well-planned, and ultimately led to many more accomplishments along the way. Caliente pizza has captured numerous ‘Best Pizza in the World’ medals at the annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas and awards at other pizza competitions throughout the country. They were named as a Top 100 Pizzeria by Pizza Today. On a local level, their pizza is highly touted as some of the best pie in Pittsburgh. And, most recently, Bogacz and Caliente Regional Chef Eric Von Hansen were chosen to be part of the World Pizza Champions Team comprised of 40 pizza makers from around the world. Their talents will be on display in Parma, Italy in April 2019 in the largest pizza competition in the world!
With all these accolades, expanding the brand to multiple locations was imminent. Bogacz looked no further than his own neighborhood for Caliente location #2 in Hampton Township, taking over a building that housed a pizza shop where his wife used to work as a teenager. About a year later, store #3 opened in the Mount Lebanon neighborhood and, shortly after that, store #4 made its premiere in Aspinwall. Now, as this feature hits the presses, Caliente #5 is a mere days away from opening up in Monroeville.
Many reasons can be acknowledged for this growth: clean taps, having up-to-date draft lists online and at each location, exceeding customer expectations. But Bogacz feels the two biggest items that helped push the Caliente brand forward are the following:
1) It was mentioned before, but it bears repeating: listening to customers and giving them what they want while standing behind products and service every step of the way. According to Bogacz, this required focusing on more on outcomes and less on risk.
2) Having management and staff in place who believe in the brand strongly enough to help it grow.
“It starts with your people,” Bogacz proclaimed. “If you don’t have a group of people who believe in your overall vision for the company’s growth, then growth isn’t possible. I am blessed with a great staff of 150 employees and, with our 5th location about to open, that number will hit 190!”
While all businesses are built and operate differently, it’s imperative to attack your expansion plan with all of the pieces in the right place. Established brand recognition, strong staffing, a commitment to excellence, and the ability to consume customer requests and put them to work for you are critical factors in taking that next big step in the evolution of your enterprise. If you are in a position to take the next big step, congratulations! Proceed with vision and patience and make the next chapter of your brand development as prosperous as the first.