Operations

What’s next for Rave Restaurant Group?

With a new CEO and other leaders, the parent company of Pizza Inn and struggling Pie Five charts a course for the future.
Photograph courtesy of Pie Five

Brandon Solano, the new CEO of struggling Rave Restaurant Group, made sure to have a giant white board installed in his Dallas office as soon as he took the job in October.

It was immediately filled, he said, with ideas for rethinking Rave’s two very different brands: 50-year-old Pizza Inn and the much younger Pie Five fast-casual pizza chain.

Both brands have their own struggles, but Pie Five—which has shuttered about 15 units this year and is down to 58 stores—needs a turnaround, Solano told Restaurant Business.

“For Pie Five, it’s almost a blank slate,” the former CMO of Pei Wei Asian Diner said. “It’s about reimagining that brand. We have five or six positioning options that we’re fleshing out.”

Pie Five, which had about 100 locations two years ago, reported a same-store sales drop of 7.3% in September for the quarter.

“Pie Five went wrong from the beginning,” Solano said. “Consumers don’t know what Pie Five stands for. … If all you stand for is, ‘Hey, we sell pizza,’ you are in deep weeds.”

So Solano and a largely new team at Rave are trying to figure out a way to make the concept differentiated and compelling to consumers.

Last month, Rave announced the departure of Bob Bafundo as president, as well as the addition of Mike Burns as COO and Douglas Kwong as vice president of marketing. Justin Smith came on as senior director of operations for Pizza Inn, and Aaron Archuleta took on the director of operations post for Pie Five.

“We had a lot of management changes the other day,” Solano said. “With the staff, we’re being transparent with them. We’re making sure they understand the whys behind what we’re doing.”

Right now, Rave has enlisted a couple of research firms to start doing some “deep consumer work” to better understand what customers want, he said. He hopes that by the end of his first 90 days as CEO, near the end of January, the team will have a strategic plan for the company.

At 155-unit Pizza Inn, where same-store sales have grown for 10 straight quarters, the plan is for more of a brand refresh than a wholesale reinvention, he said.

“How do we modernize that while working with our franchise partners?” Solano said. “We don’t have a POS system. We don’t have good analytics. We struggle with integrating online ordering and loyalty. That’s first. We have some tired assets out there.”

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