From date-night to day job, here’s the story behind PARLOUR’s ongoing growth in the Midwest 

When Don Robinson, now CEO and President, purchased PARLOUR in 2019, it was never intended to become more than a personal investment. Drawn in by the truly unique concept that not only grew during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also provides a niche offering in the pizza market, Don has grown the business from a single site to a continuously growing portfolio of inviting restaurants with high-quality food, craft beer, and a comfortable atmosphere.

Founded as PARLOUR Pizza + Pints in 2017, Don enjoyed frequenting the restaurant with his wife, Teresa. “PARLOUR opened as a single unit in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which is coincidentally my hometown, so I often visited and was always impressed with the cool, comfortable atmosphere, but felt that it never hit its full potential,” Don begins. “I knew one of the owners back then, so I would often contact him to express my interest in the site if the owners ever wanted to sell. It went on for two years before, to my delight, they decided to.

“We purchased the business in August 2019, which was never intended to be more than an investment in a restaurant I enjoyed visiting and was located in my hometown. Obviously, the pandemic hit in March 2020, but amidst the chaos, I realized that we had something incredibly special; we attracted people from across the river and started receiving great feedback about the food and beverages. That’s when we took a leap of faith and I launched myself into the business with a growth mindset.

“My wife often says that there’s a fine line between idiot and genius – and I walk it,” Don laughs. “So, against all odds, we grew to four sites during the pandemic, through purchasing a few restaurants that had closed and rebranding them as PARLOUR venues. Luckily for us, it paid off, and our elevated pizza concept quickly gained traction across the region.

“Today, the business continues to grow, and our 2023 sales are up 25 percent compared to last year. It’s interesting when I speak with potential franchisees, as they often ask what our anticipated or average unit volumes are, but we’re only just getting started with the brand, so although our average is around 2.8 million per location, we don’t yet have a prototype to quote. However, our most recent location, while not an exact prototype, is closer to our envisioned model for future stores and is projected to achieve 3.6 million in 2024.

“We currently have five company-owned locations and we’re looking to open four-to-six more stores next year,” he adds. “We’ve recently signed our first franchise deal, which is a six store, multi-unit deal and our partners are currently looking for sites to renovate. So, the stores we add to the portfolio in 2024 will be a combination of both company-owned and franchise locations.”

Quality ingredients
As Don alludes to, the ‘elevated pizza concept’ is what makes PARLOUR truly unique in a competitive market. “What’s great about pizza is that it knows no boundaries – everyone loves pizza, and we simply want to bring everything a customer expects from a more modern, elevated restaurant to the pizza segment,” he states. “So, from ingredients and beverages to service and atmosphere, we prioritize quality. Take our wings, for example, we don’t finish them in a fryer like most other restaurants, but instead smoke them to ensure the meat stays juicy and tender.”

On the topic of quality, PARLOUR’s wide-ranging beverage offering is another example of one of the restaurant’s unique, standout features. “We have at least 30 craft beers on tap at every location at any given time, and we’ve partnered with local companies to produce our own private labelled red and white wines,” Don reveals. “We also partner with local breweries to feature guest beers or ales, as well as to produce our own unique beers. We have a ‘smoked blonde,’ for example, which is very smokey in flavor, but my personal favorite is the ‘PARLOUR red’ as it’s an all-round great craft beer.

“We also offer craft cocktails, including five signature cocktails and a rotation of four seasonal options. When it comes to cocktails, we make all our syrups in-house and even soak our own bourbon cherries – everything you’d expect from a high-end, elevated restaurant.”

Welcome to PARLOUR
In terms of the atmosphere, Don strives to foster a welcoming environment that is vibrant while being comfortable and relaxed. “PARLOUR is a place for everyone on any occasion, whether it’s a date night, a place to meet friends, or simply a meal out with your family,” Don states. “Although we’re trying to bring an elevated concept to the pizza sector, we still want a relaxed vibe, so we have lots of televisions without being a sports bar and play acoustic music in the background.

“We try to blend the inside and outside at all our locations, making both part of the overall experience by integrating features like covered patios and heaters into our design. Although we’re proudly a restaurant, we try to make the bar a focal point in the interior design of every site without overcrowding the space or overshadowing our pizza offering.”

As our conversation draws to a close, Don reflects on his career and unforeseen business venture. “I’ve come full circle; I worked at Papa John’s during school and set up my own pizza restaurant just 30 days after leaving school,” he explains. “After dedicating 25 years as a Penn Station franchisee, fast-forward to today, and you’ll find me working in the pizza sector back in my hometown of Jeffersonville.

“As I mentioned earlier, we’re looking to add new locations to our portfolio over the next year, with a goal to reach 50 locations in five years’ time,” Don concludes. “However, one thing is certain in whatever we do moving forward – we will never sacrifice quality!”