Sbarro, the mall pizza chain, is taking on convenience stores

The pizza concept says it plans to open 100 company and franchise locations this year, thanks to deals with convenience stores and travel plazas.
Photo courtesy of Sbarro

Sbarro is leaving the mall and hitting the road.

The pizza-by-the-slice chain, known most for its former omnipresence inside America’s malls, is targeting nontraditional development of a different kind, with deals to expand inside gas stations and travel plazas in the U.S. and the U.K.

The company said it expects 100 new company and franchise locations this year, largely because of those deals.

“Our experience, economical business model and position as the global QSR leader in the impulse pizza category make convenience stores and travel centers natural fits for us,” CEO David Karam said in a statement.

Sbarro was founded in 1956 and ultimately became synonymous with mall pizzas. At one point the brand had about 800 locations, often serving its large slices of New York-style pizzas to customers taking a break from shopping.

But it has declined over the years amid extensive debt problems and a consumer that has shifted its pizza dining habits. People eat fewer pizzas in restaurant settings, choosing instead to order takeout or delivery from places like Domino’s, Papa Johns and Little Caesars. The result has been tough on pizza brands such as Uno and traditional dine-in Pizza Huts.

Sbarro filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Today it operates about 300 global units. System sales, according to data from Restaurant Business sister company Technomic, are less than a third of what they were before the Great Recession.

Convenience stores could help fuel more unit growth, however. Those places have been pushing harder into foodservice for years and slices of pizza are relatively popular inside such retailers already. “Sbarro is not new to convenience,” Karam said.

The company has franchise relationships with ARKO Corp.’s GPM Investments, EuroGarages, EG America and Travel Centers of America to develop the brand in the U.S. and the U.K.

GPM recently committed to open 50 Sbarro locations this year and has three stores open in Indiana along with its Village Pantry brand. EuroGarages and EG America also plan to open dozens of locations with their various convenience store brands, including Turkey Hill and KwikShop.

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