A Valley-born all-you-caneat pizza chain is upgrading its hometown and its image in preparation for a major expansion.
Eatza Pizza moved into its new Scottsdale offices from cramped quarters in the back of one of its Glendale restaurants in November, company president Ron Stilwell said.
Last week, the newly East Valley-based company unveiled a new prototype store and aggressive expansion plans.
Eatza Pizza, which has 23 stores including three in the East Valley, plans to have 75 open by the end of 2005, Stilwell said.
Franchise agreements for 37 new locations are pending, all in other states.
The 8-year-old chain plans to build stores in Scottsdale, Chandler and Ahwatukee Foothills this year. A third Mesa eatery is pegged to open at Power and Williams Field roads within a couple of years.
Meanwhile Eatza Pizza is remodeling its five existing company-owned stores and encouraging franchisees to do the same. Stores at 1350 S. Gilbert Road in Mesa and 3224 S. Mill Ave. in Tempe are partially upgraded and will be completely redone by year end, Stilwell said.
A Mesa Eatza Pizza at 6060 E. Brown Road has had a slight spruce-up, but it may be relocated instead of being remodeled, he said.
New financial backer, Scottsdale-based VistaCare founder Barry Smith fueled the pizza chain’s reimaging and the move to Scottsdale.
"I became enthralled with the concept," Smith said. "People want great food, a great environment to eat it in and great value."
Eatza Pizza offers an allyou-can-eat pizza, pasta, salad and dessert buffet for $3.99. The only extras are drinks and optional orders of buffalo wings.
All the food is fresh, with dough and sauce made daily in each restaurant and fresh ingredients cut and prepared on site, Stilwell said.
The restaurants are basic and frill-less, although they house enough games to keep kids happy, said Stilwell, formerly vice president at rival chain Peter Piper Pizza.
"We feel having interesting games for kids is part of a great restaurant experience," Stilwell said. "We have games but not as many as Peter Piper. We don’t want to be a birthday party place."
Unlike most pizza restaurants, Eatza Pizza does a booming lunch business.
That’s because, "People can get in and out in 20 minutes and not feel rushed," Stilwell said.
On evenings and weekends, it’s popular with families and senior citizens, he said.
The restaurants are about half the size of a typical Piper Piper Pizza, and that won’t change with the new prototype.
But the new look is less cafeteria-like and more dining room-like with booths, carpeting, new furniture, new lighting, new colors and a new logo.
"Everything the customers will feel, touch or see will be changed," Stilwell said.
The company is even updating the menu with new pizza combos and deserts, Stilwell said.
Even with the upgraded amenities, an Eatza Pizza can be built for about $250,000, Stilwell said, about a quarter of the cost of building a new Peter Piper eatery.
The poor economy of the last several years has been kind to Eatza Pizza. Sales in stores open at least a year, generally considered the best measurement of a company’s success, have jumped by double digits.
"We’re seeing same-store sales increases of of 12 percent to 40 percent over last year," Stilwell said. "That’s unheard of in the dining business." But Smith said the chain is well-suited for flush financial times as well because the food is good as well as cheap.