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The Refreshed Old Chicago Concept is Built on the Same Fundamentals of Great Tasting Pizza and Craft Beer But With a More Current and Stylish Positioning (Q&A)

by Franchise Chatter on July 18, 2013

in Q & A Interview, Restaurant Franchise

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Founded in 1976 in Boulder, Colo., Old Chicago Pasta & Pizza has refreshed its brand to deliver a more modern dining experience. Rebranded as Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, the neighborhood restaurant and craft beer tavern has added progressive touches, an enhanced service model, and an updated menu with wider and deeper offerings.

In addition, Old Chicago is updating the look and feel of the restaurants. The fresh-faced tavern is stylish and warm; light woods and clean metal accents blend together for an enticing, authentic feel.

In 2009, Will Powers joined Rock Bottom Restaurants Inc. where he quickly began addressing the branding and marketing needs of this national brewery and restaurant concept. Through the inception of CraftWorks Inc., the nation’s largest brewery restaurant company, Will oversaw market research and positioning for the Gordon Biersch, Rock Bottom, and Old Chicago brands.

In 2010, Will was given the unique opportunity to join an internal task team that would, over the next two years, create the blueprint for successfully rebranding CraftWorks’ largest brand, Old Chicago. Based on early test market results, Will was quickly awarded the opportunity to oversee all marketing and branding rollout for the new Old Chicago company-wide along with running the Old Chicago marketing division.

As the Sr. Director of Marketing, Will currently oversees all marketing and branding for the 100 unit brand.

Will has a B.S. in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin. He currently resides in Chattanooga, TN with his wife and four daughters.

Franchise Chatter (FC):  For those unfamiliar, can you tell us about the original concept for Old Chicago Pasta and Pizza?

Old Chicago Interior Photo Will Powers (WP):  Old Chicago was started by Frank Day in Boulder, CO. in 1976 with the goal of offering great Chicago style pizza. Coupled with his love for craft beer, Old Chicago Pizza & Pasta and 110 beers were born. Close to four decades later, Old Chicago has grown to nearly 100 units coast to coast.

The brand has successfully been able to meet consumers’ needs for great tasting pizza and deliver some of the finest craft beer in the country.  All of this is provided in a casual, comfortable restaurant that allows all guests to reconnect with family and friends.

FC:  What was your goal behind the re-branding of your franchise?

WP:  Pizza and beer are some of the highest desired product offerings in the restaurant industry. The versatility and popularity of the product offering does well in suburban and urban locations, cities of all sizes and appeal to guests everywhere.

While this category has many different competitors, we believe that our point of differentiation is the quality of our product offerings, our beer knowledge and offerings, the service package we offer and an affordable price point. We believe the versatility of this brand will play well in any city or state.

FC:  You hired the Boston Consulting Group to oversee the research and planning process. What were some of their key recommendations?

Old Chicago Interior PhotoWP:  During this 18-month process a lot of information guided us to the current brand positioning today. Overall, the major theme that came out of the research was a need for a “gather ‘round and reconnect” atmosphere.

From there we examined all of the attributes that would help support the reconnect message. This ranged from adding shareable product offerings to demonstrating how we go the extra mile in our beer program to showcase our knowledge and passion for beer.

Other areas that would demonstrate a progression were a more current look, feel, tone and manner in all internal and external cues that our guests are exposed to.

Lastly, we are focusing our efforts on building a world-class loyalty program that would match our current World Beer Program.

FC:  How would you describe the new Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom concept?

WP:  The new concept is built on the same fundamentals of great tasting pizza and craft beer but with a more current and stylish positioning. We worked very hard to make sure that our supporting categories i.e. appetizers, pastas, sandwiches, etc. continue to deliver the same high quality standard that our pizza holds.

As mentioned, we want to assure guests that we will go the extra mile to deliver the best pizza and taproom experience. We achieve this with our approach of serving beer in different glass shapes and sizes to enhance the attributes of the beer, our staff’s knowledge of food and beer pairing as well as our enhanced methods for prepping food and dough fresh daily.

FC:  Can you describe the look and feel of your new restaurants?

Old Chicago Interior Photo WP:  The new look is casual and conformable where friends and family can gather ’round and reconnect. The décor is current and stylish but not overpowering or out of place.  Lighting, seat placement, restaurant flow is all designed to encourage our reconnect message.

FC:  Tell us about your partnership with Lettuce Entertain You and the new items on your menu.

WP:  A brand position is largely defined in three major areas; product, place and people. Almost four decades of conducting business in the restaurant industry has taught us that it all starts with the product. At the root of every visit is a desire for our product. This is what brings guests through our doors all day, every day.

With a brand refresh of this size, the majority of menu items are new or restructured. We knew that we had to make sure that every item was going to meet our strict standards. Our internal culinary team partnered with Lettuce Entertain You to develop some of the best new product offerings in the casual dining segment.

With the majority of the menu being new and the sizeable investment made in this brand refresh, we wanted to make sure that all items passed our standards in our first test restaurant. To ensure that the items selected would meet expectations, we partnered with one of the largest sensory evaluation food research companies, Food Perspective, Inc.

Hundreds and hundreds of panelists evaluated many of the items. Based on data gathered, refinements were made as necessary and then retested again.  This gave us the confidence that every item put forth on the new menu would meet the needs of our core and aspirational guests.

FC:  What are the costs involved in this major brand re-fresh. Are you providing any assistance to franchisees to help with the remodels?

Old Chicao PizzaWP:  We are currently looking at the refresh model and are putting the finishing touches on our franchise package. By early fall, all 58 corporate locations will be refreshed and provide a quantifiable gauge on upfront investment and return on investment.

We are currently working with existing franchisees and providing the necessary support needed as they prepare to enter into the Old Chicago refresh.

FC:  What has the response been to the new look and menu from your franchisees and customers?

WP:  The customers love it.  Our guests appreciate and connect with the new brand position. Our aspirational guests are able to have that higher-end casual dining experience they desire but within the casual dining price point.

We are very pleased with the increase in sales and traffic volume within our refreshed restaurants.

FC:  What are your franchise growth plans over the coming year?

WP:  We want to be aggressive but at the same time make sure that we partner with a franchisee that will embrace and foster the new brand direction.  As stated above, there is tremendous growth opportunities for the Old Chicago brand and with our new brand refresh package, we envision partnering with many different franchise organizations to grow hundreds in the near future.

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