Canadian Pizza Magazine

Paris Surf offers pizza as ‘retailtainment’

Michelle Brisebois   

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We forget sometimes that pizza is fun. It’s a sentiment not lost on Chip Foster, the Canadian fashion designer known for his premium jeans beloved by the likes of Robin Wright, Sarah Jessica Parker and Beyonce.

When the entrepreneur decided to open a business in Paris, Ont., he envisioned a cool place to party. A place where his kids would want to hang out. He found the perfect building and had the perfect fashion line to showcase – now to add the party to weave in the retailtainment that would bring the brand to life. Naturally, he reached for pizza.

Paris Surf is a mashup of L.A., New York and small-town humility all rolled into one glorious culinary-retailing experience. You know you’re about to enter a special space as you reach to open the front door and realize the door pull is an axe. Foster fell in love with the building as he drove past it one day and soon afterwards purchased it. The fashion retailing resides at the front of the store while the pizzeria operates at the back.

“I’m from the fashion industry and whether you’re in New York, L.A. or even Japan, pizza is there. I realized that even when it’s a bad pizza, it’s still an experience. After having worked with various retailers over the years I knew I didn’t want a cold, generic in-store experience. This is why retail is dying. Shopping needs to be experiential,” Foster says. He wanted to make the best pizza, so he went to the East Coast to train with some of the best pizza makers in the United States. He hit on the right dough and sauce combination and wanted to ensure the portions weren’t huge. Paris Surf boasts a mouthwatering menu of options such as a Cheeseburger pizza and a BLT pizza. They also offer a gluten-free pizza crust.


Chip Foster is clear about his desire to stay focused on pizza and do that well. “We talked about possibly adding a calzone or sandwiches to the menu,” he says. “I said ‘No, we’re sticking to pizza.’ ” The pizzeria is covered in white subway tile, including a gorgeous pizza oven branded with the Paris Surf tag line. “The oven is the first one in Canada with a double burner and rotating oven. It adds to the retailtainment when people can watch it operate,” he says.

The pizza and the clothes deliver quality in spades but any marketing visionary knows that a solid brand identity gives structure to the storytelling that enhances the experience. Paris Surf’s name and tag line speak more to the promise it makes to the customer than to the actual product or service. The business name – Paris Surf – suggests an exotic party…a melding of rural Ontario and California. The logo showcases a big red heart reminiscent of the “I love New York” logo that works beautifully to elicit the right connection to both pizza and fashion. The logo is supported by the tag line “Paris Surf Loves You.”

We ask Chip Foster where that statement came from and what it means to him and to the business. “Coming from the fashion business, I know how people fall in love with brands. I was in a hotel and woke up in the middle of the night knowing that ‘Paris Surf Loves You’ was the perfect sentiment. Not one thing about it says pizza. It’s about how we feel about the customer. That everyone is welcome. The team is trained to make it right for the customer and to ensure they have a great experience.”

That sense of fun, approachability and connection has seeped into every visual aspect of the store and restaurant. Good retail marketers know that the moment of arrival in a space is an opportunity to make a statement and Foster does this with verve. The front door handle is an axe embedded in the door frame (blade on the bottom). You pause, you smile, and you enter ready to party. The clothing store showcases Foster’s designer denim and some shirts, caps and other accessories. Most of the clothing is Canadian made with the exception of the denim jeans. “The denim is Japanese and Italian made,” the designer says. The clothing store has a cottage vibe that flows nicely into the pizzeria. The dining space is covered with white subway tile and offers an eclectic mix of mismatched tables and chairs that many people would recognize from the family cottage or their childhood. The beautiful wood rafters above showcase a canopy of dozens of vintage chandeliers. Hanging from one rafter is an old outboard boat motor. It’s arresting and a curious choice but it also makes you smile and reminds you that this is no cookie-cutter space. Now we really had to ask, ”What’s up with the outboard motor?” Foster points out that beauty and good design can be found in many places. “This old stuff is like pieces of art. It’s not like the crap coming out of stores now.” While the designer is open to the idea of expanding to more locations, he is committed to doing it in a way that honours the brand identity. “We want to do it in a controlled way, keeping it tight,” he says.

The rules of retailing are shifting quickly. Whether it’s clothes, food, dining, banking or widgets – we’re shifting from a transactional to an experiential focus. Paris Surf is a study in how to do it right. When asked to sum up his philosophy as a merchant, Foster is crystal clear about the path forward. “This is the future of retail. We need to engage with people.”

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies.

Looking for other stories about marketing strategies and tips for pizzerias at Market Your Pizzeria Week section.

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