Sam & Louie’s Pizzeria, originally best known for the food within its namesake, is evolving to be more than just a pizzeria. “We are known in the Omaha area as being an upscale pizzeria, but as we continue to expand the franchise system into other markets, our Italian entrees are increasing in popularity,” President Greg Nolan says.
Based in Omaha, Neb., Sam & Louie’s serves New York-style pizza, a variety of pasta dishes, calzones, stromboli, sandwiches and salads. The company was founded in 1994. What causes somebody to go into the pizza business? Well, it went like this:
After 17 years of direct sales, Nolan grew weary of top management and began looking to other avenues. “This is where my daughter comes into the picture,” he says. Equally dissatisfied with her current situation she suggested to her dad, “Hey, why don’t we do pizza?” And from there it started.
When it came time to name the restaurant, Nolan decided to use the names of his father and father-in-law, both from rural Nebraska.
Today, Sam & Louie’s has 20 locations in Nebraska, Iowa and Montana. Sam & Louie’s has focused on opening locations in small communities, while continuing to develop larger markets as well.
“Most of these smaller towns do not have anything close to an Italian restaurant,” he says. “We have found that our concept fills the void perfectly.” The company has performed very well in larger markets such as Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Billings, Mont.
A Natural Transition
Although Nolan’s previous experience was in direct sales, he did not find the transition to the food industry to be difficult. “It was kind of a natural thing,” he recalls. “With my sales background, I understood what it took to make a restaurant [successful].”
One thing that sets Sam & Louie’s apart is the marketing philosophy. The company does not regularly pursue mainstream marketing such as radio, TV or newspaper advertising. Sam and Louie’s marketing philosophy is centered on direct mail campaigns and direct marketing to its customer database via the Internet.
Sam and Louie’s regularly contacts its customer database via mail and/or email. One example of this is the birthday program. “Everyone gets a free pizza for their birthday,” Nolan says. “We’ve found that when you do things like this, you create more customer participation in the database.”
Sam & Louie’s menu features a variety of pizza toppings that distinguish it from other restaurants in its market. Sam & Louie’s menu boasts pizza creations such as the T-Rex, not your typical all meat pizza, topped with Italian sausage, sliced meatballs, pepperoni and bacon. It also offers a variety of creatively topped chicken pizzas, many of which are classified as low fat: The California includes grilled chicken, fresh broccoli, sliced Roma tomatoes and feta cheese; Customers can mix things up with a different sauce base for their chicken pizza and try the Barbeque Chicken, Thai Chicken, Chicken Bacon Ranch or Chicken Cordon Bleu.
“Chicken nowadays is a very sought-after topping,” he says.
Sam & Louie’s specialty pizzas are time-tested and customer approved. After undergoing testing by the company’s corporate research and development team, new items are introduced to customers at the four corporate locations. After a period of customer testing and feedback, well-received items are introduced to all locations.
In 2009, the company’s R&D team found itself to be ahead of the times with the introduction of a gluten-free menu. Today, the term “gluten-free” is commonly heard in the pizza industry, but Nolan and his crew brought this highly sought item to Omaha before many others. Sam and Louie’s menu hosts an extensive gluten-free section, with almost all specialty pizzas available made to order.
A Useful Tool
Director of Franchising Michael Nolan says Sam & Louie’s has kept up with state-of-the-art restaurant industry technology. In 2005, the company implemented Granbury Restaurant Solutions’ DiamondTouch point-of-sale (POS) system.
At first, Sam & Louie’s did not think it needed a POS system, Nolan admits. “When we started out, we were using regular old cash registers,” he recalls, noting that many told the company that the POS would pay for itself.
“It was hard to believe,” [but] they’re right,” he recalls. “You’re much better off having a POS system and having it track everything for you.”
After looking at dozens of systems, Sam & Louie’s chose DiamondTouch, which was designed specifically for use in pizzerias.
“It is very user-friendly,” Nolan says. “You do not have to be a computer savvy person at all [to use it].”
The system also helps Sam & Louie’s monitor its franchisees’ locations. “We track what sells in all of the locations,” Nolan explains. “This information is very useful to our research and development team.” Along with valuable sales tracking, DiamondTouch offers many other features, including labor cost tracking programs.
“We have taken DiamondTouch to new heights integrating their system into our state-of-the-art secure network,” adds Nolan. “This network allows franchisees easy access to our corporate resources in areas such as marketing, training and daily operations.”
Greg Nolan is hopeful for the future of Sam & Louie’s. The franchise system grew by 12 locations in the last three years, and Nolan says the company has every reason to expect more.
“We’re growing very quickly right now,” Nolan explains. “We expect this year to open six more for sure. We could have a 50 percent increase in 2011 alone.”