Canadian Pizza Magazine

Quality Over Gimmickry

By Stacy Bradshaw and Cam Wood   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Staying The Course At Pizza Nova

If there is anyone who could draw the roadmap to success
for the pizza industry, it’s Sam Primucci. The president and co-founder
of Pizza Nova has watched the business landscape change many times, but
refused to take any shortcuts.

Staying The Course At Pizza Nova Proves To Be A Shining Success

If there is anyone who could draw the roadmap to success for the pizza industry, it’s Sam Primucci. The president and co-founder of Pizza Nova has watched the business landscape change many times, but refused to take any shortcuts.

Sitting in his office at corporate headquarters in Scarborough, Ont., the patriarch of the business reflected on the one real key – they never followed anyone else’s gimmicks in tough economic times and always “stayed the course.”


Pizza Nova started in 1963 as a traditional family-run Italian restaurant in Toronto. The entrepreneurial spirit of four brothers with the idea to bring a taste of their heritage to their community has since grown into one of the country’s most prominent franchise operations. Back then, they used only the freshest, quality ingredients they could find at the local produce market.
Today, Sam and his son Domenic maintain that same commitment to quality.

During a recent “chef’s tour” with Canadian Pizza magazine, Domenic paused for a moment in the centre of their warehouse to explain how the company has sought out some of the finest ingredients from across the globe to craft their pizzas.

“We could get ingredients for a lot less (money),” he said. “But this is what our customers expect from us. Do you want to save a dollar (on ingredients) to make an extra dollar?” Domenic believes that kind of shortcut would be disastrous in the long run, as customers can taste the difference in quality.

Dino Gualtieri places some toppings onto a customer’s order at the Pizza Nova corporate store in Toronto.
Richard Fuller portions out some spices in the Pizza Nova test kitchen.
Pizza Nova president Sam Primucci and his son, Domenic, at

Given that quality is what his family has made as their brand differentation, it’s not something they are willing to do.

In another area, a 40-tonne silo of flour feeds into a preparation room, where fresh dough made with purified water is manufactured daily. Dough makers produce anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 dough balls daily, depending on size, which are then “quick-frozen” to reduce proofing at the manufacturing facility. The frozen dough is then packaged and shipped out to the over 100 Pizza Nova locations, two-to-three times each week, depending on traffic flow and consumption patterns at the stores.

Even in the presentation of the corporate graphics and food photography, the Primucci family has made the same quality commitment. Their corporate photographer – who grew up in the same neighbourhood as the first Pizza Nova store – is now the official corporate photographer for Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino mogul.

“We have spent a lot time working with him, so what our customers see (on the menus) is exactly what they get at the counter,” Domenic explained.

Pizza Nova has also focused a great deal of effort on distinguishing themselves from other neighbourhood pizzerias through their use of their central call centre, which is not just used as an order-taking facility, but also as a marketing tool to build demographic profiles and extend their level of customer service. Every new customer can expect a phone call back from a Pizza Nova operator to confirm that everything was satisfactory with their order and to welcome them to the “family.”

The response is usually, “I can’t believe you called us … you care that much?” said Dominic, but they play close attention to customers’ suggestions and comments.

When customer demand for a topping not currently offered reaches a certain level, Pizza Nova will test it out first in their test kitchen on-site, then leading to per slice sales in the stores. If the response is positive, it’s added to the nationwide menu. Most recently, Domenic said, they’ve investigated offering artichoke.

It’s these kind of events to which the Primuccis pay close attention. Sam said they recognize that today’s customer is more sophisticated and educated on food … they really understand the product and know what they want.

“We don’t cook in a fast oven where it doesn’t matter what it has on it, it cooks for seven minutes and out the door. We teach our franchisees that it takes longer to cook a pizza with more toppings on it.”

In fact, Sam teaches his franchisees a lot of things. He has them work a few days in the call centre, in the test kitchen, and in a corporate store before handing over the keys. And when he does, he also hands them his cell phone number.

And that’s something else Sam prides himself on: always being there for the people in his company.

Mary Lacaria, an employee of over 20 years, worked at Pizza Nova while completing her master’s degree in social work. Now, she spearheads the company’s Franchisee & Employee Care Program. Employees are welcome to walk into Mary’s office anytime to discuss problems, whether they are work-related or personal.

The Primuccis have many other long-term employees in their company, some for 25, 30, and even 35 years. The traditional high level of turnover hasn’t seemed to affect their business, Sam said. But, he suggested, quality isn’t always just about the ingredients, or the food … but also about the way people feel about how they are treated at work.

Sam said staying the course with quality is what will keep them in the business.

And being a quality citizen has also proven its value. The humble Sam casts it off as doing the right thing, but his community recognizes the monumentous contribution Pizza Nova makes in goods and charity. Their annual “gift” amounts to over $100,000 to a number of charitable organizations, and $150,000 in food.

This year, the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Toronto honoured Sam for his global success in business.

The Primuccis recognize that what has got them here today are the values they’ve shown throughout their growth from a single shop to an international company. But while the gimmicks of the 1980s – the two-for-ones, three-for-ones, four-for-ones – have now left chains bankrupt or with questionable quality, a new, more ominous foe lay on the horizon.

“Our biggest challenge is the grocery stores.”

With upwards of 30 per cent of their space devoted to hot food, grocery stores are essentially running restaurants. Walk into any super-store these days, and consumers can find full-service coffee and lunch counters, seating areas and menus.

Grocery stores and their frozen pizzas are the real competition, according to Sam, but the government doesn’t see it that way.

“Unfortunately, the dairy commission is more powerful than the government,” he said with a helpless shrug. Neither he, nor Domenic, had the muster this day to get into deeper debate on the issue surrounding the controversial 5A licensing process.

“Just give us a level playing field,” Domenic said.

But, ever the optimists, the father and son team see that opportunities do exist for them to help the industry. Educating children on the health benefits of pizza is one. Pizza Nova hosts its annual pizza-making workshop for kids at the CNE in Toronto, The Royal Winter Fair and in classrooms across the province. This year, 4,320 children graduated as Pizza Nova Pizzaiolos at the CNE.

“This has really helped our business,” said Sam.

The health issue has actually helped the company in exposing their pizza as “good food fast,” and not “fast food.”  Sam believes there is a niche market for the type of pizza that is purchased for its quality ingredients, not cheaper price. Pizza Nova wants to be that one company that defines its market segment.

Last year, Pizza Nova printed a flyer for the chain – 16 pages and not one price was printed. Instead, they focused on telling the story of pizza, connecting the flavours and a little history to the regions of origin.

“If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll be nothing to one,” said Sam.

And with that, the president of the company offered his hand and said he had to be somewhere – he was off to welcome another new franchisee into the fold, with the opening of their fifth store in Brampton.•

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