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Emerging Brands

Piada embarks on a growth-focused 'quest'

The fast casual is shaking up the way it does business, with plans to add up to 18 new locations in the next two years.
Photos courtesy Piada Italian Street Food

Fast-casual chain Piada Italian Street Food is on a “quest to grow” the 38-unit brand, one of the concept’s executives said.

And the chain is trying a new store footprint and ordering model, new menu items and new technology is it emerges from pandemic mode.

“We’ve begun a quest to grow our company,” said Matt Harding, Piada’s vice president of culinary and menu innovation.

The Columbus, Ohio-based chain plans to open five to six new restaurants this year and up to 12 new locations in 2022.

A new unit scheduled to open this summer in Pittsburgh will be nearly half the size of a traditional Piada, about 1,500 square feet. And it will operate on a pay-first model, unlike the chain’s typical restaurants in which customers order and then pay.

“This is a great way to see if we can ease that burden of trying to prepare an order while engaging with a guest,” Piada’s Director of Technology Jason Profitt said. “The cashier has taken the order; they just have to execute it.”

The small-footprint store will be focused on off-premise business, with just three tables inside.

Piada was founded in 2010. Its signature piada is akin to an Italian burrito, a street-style wrap stuffed with proteins and vegetables that’s baked on a stone grill.

The chain has long had a focus on build-your-own menu items but it is moving increasingly to chef-curated options.

This week, it launched several new items, including a Mediterranean Piada, Bacon & Blue Chop Salad, Roasted Tomato Pomodoro Pasta and a revamped Power Bowl.

“We realized guests ultimately decide where they go based on what they like,” Harding said. “What we’re trying to do is create bumpers on the road and let them drive left or right. We’re still giving the guests a certain amount of customization.”

Having a smaller prototype might lead to the chain opening pickup-only locations and will give it great flexibility as it grows.

The smaller stores “give us a tremendous amount of freedom in which ways we can grow the company,” Harding said.

“We can backfill the company,” he said. “We can provide opportunities for our team. It helps the company reach its goals more quickly.”

What didn’t work for Piada, however, was a traditional drive-thru. The menu is a bit too complex for that format to make for an efficient operation. But Piada currently has pickup-only drive-thru windows at seven locations.

A new kitchen display system has cut build times in half, Profitt said. And Piada has tripled the size of its makelines for off-premise orders since the beginning of last year.

“It’s been a terrific win for us,” he said. “We see the higher ticket value on digital, we can offer upsells and can push some additional items … Everything that we’ve learned up until now is going to be influencing our future property choices and how we build out the kitchen.”

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