Judging from its name, one might think CiCi’s Pizza is all about one thing. But the 550-unit chain offers an endless buffet filled with soups, salads, pastas and desserts—as well as 28 pizzas in rotation. A recent addition—garlic knots—was inspired by one of CiCi’s latest pizza varieties.
“We identified garlic as a flavor profile that was missing from our buffet,” says Rebecca Stone, senior director of food & beverage for CiCi’s. So the kitchen created a garlic sauce made from a proprietary garlic seasoning that was developed with a vendor partner. The seasoning was blended with a liquid butter product already on hand. “Garlic is a craveable flavor that has great guest appeal,” she adds.
Stone’s intention was to cross-utilize the garlic sauce in several buffet items. The first application was CiCi’s Italiano Garlic Pizza, built on a crisp, thin Italiano crust and topped with pizza cheese, red onions, black olives, diced tomatoes and a sprinkling of Italiano herb seasoning. While this was an LTO, guests can always “special request” a pizza that has been on the buffet or customize a pie, choosing from one of three crusts—Italiano, deep-dish or traditional.
Fit to be tied
“To take the garlic sauce to a new level,” Garlic Parmesan Knots made a lot of sense, Stone notes. She used the chain’s traditional pizza dough, made fresh every day, for the base. “The knots are two-bite items that work across all dayparts and for dine-in or carryout,” she adds. Since CiCi’s wants to grow happy hour and late night business; bite-size items are a natural.
Sticking to the mainstream
“We’re a middle-of-the-road brand,” Stone explains. “Our guests are looking for traditional Italian ingredients and flavors when they come here.” Ethnic flair doesn’t usually work, and items like a Greek pizza didn’t make it to the buffet.
However, regional variations are popular in some markets, like the spicy Ole Pizza topped with green chilies at the chain’s New Mexico locations.
Stone introduces four to eight new menu items a year, but the novelty can be in a signature seasoning, new sauce or updated presentation—not necessarily a totally new product. With a value price of $5 for the all-you-can eat buffet, cost-effectiveness and profitability are major drivers in menu development.