It’s safe to say that travelers at O’Hare airport in Chicago in October 2017 had little idea that this “student” asking them about the name “Pincho Factory” was, in fact, Otto Othman, the co-founder of Miami-based Pincho Factory, doing some of his own market research.
And it was that trip that led to the company’s decision to rebrand and simply be known as “Pincho,” which the chain announced Wednesday as the company looks to grow beyond its home market.
“I went guerilla,” Othman, a marketing veteran, said in an interview with Restaurant Business.
The idea to drop “Factory” from the company’s name actually came from Michael Lastoria, the founder of fast-casual pizza chain &pizza. Lastoria told Othman that the company would be better off if it was simply called Pincho.
“He’s one of the guys I can pick up the phone and call,” said Othman, Pincho’s chairman. “He told me, ‘You need to drop the factory, man.’”
Others suggested the same thing, including Pincho board member and Blaze Pizza President and CEO Jim Mizes. Othman himself is a marketing veteran who had worked with brands before co-founding Pincho, and rather than hire an outside company to do brand research, he did it himself.
“I went to Kayak and bought a flight to Chicago O’Hare, the heart of the United States,” Othman said. “It’s a huge airport. I had a bunch of papers and in each was an example of what the name maybe could be: Pincho Factory Latin American Grill, Pincho Latin American Street Food.”
Othman never even walked outside the airport.
“I asked 45 people. I said, ‘My name is Otto. I’m a student, working on a new project.’ I didn’t tell them who I really was,” he said.
And, it turned out, most people agreed with Lastoria. The “Factory” part of the name was confusing. “‘Factory’ was confusing a lot of people,” Othman said. “‘Pincho’ is not an English word. It’s Spanish. If we were ‘Burger Factory’ or ‘Taco Factory,’ people would understand. Since we were Pincho Factory, they really thought we were a factory.”
Here’s the thing, though: People in Miami don’t call it a factory, either.
“Even in Miami, nobody says ‘Pincho Factory,’” Othman said. “The majority of folks, if you want to go to the restaurant, you just go to ‘Pincho.’ It was right there in front of us.”
Othman and Nedal Ahmad founded Pincho in 2010 based on Othman’s mother’s pincho recipes—pinchos are Latin American kebabs—as well as Ahmad’s burger recipes. The chain grew to 10 locations by last year, when it received investment capital and got a new CEO in former Papa Murphy’s Pizza executive Jayson Tipp.
The chain is franchising and expects 16 to 20 locations by 12 months from now, Tipp said.
The company has made a number of changes over the past year, including the launch of online ordering and third-party delivery. It also updated its menu and has a new restaurant design.
Othman said that the name change and rebranding was “a natural evolution of the brand” beyond its cultlike following in Miami.
But he also said that it’s important to ensure customers can understand what the brand is and what it stands for outside of its Miami home, making the name change important. “We didn’t want to be this complicated,” Othman said. “As long as people know we’re a restaurant, we’re golden. We’re not serving all this weird food—[it's] Latin-inspired burgers and grilled skewers. All things people know.”
Still, the company had its core customers who have long known the company as Pincho Factory. So the company used a viral marketing strategy in which it shows “security footage” of someone taking down the “Factory” part of the Pincho Factory sign at the company’s restaurants late at night.
The company revealed the reason today—noting in a video that “We are not a factory.”
“We’ve done a lot of work,” Othman said. “We’ve worked very hard to take something and make it simple.”