Domenic Primucci began working in his family’s Pizza Nova business at just 14 years old, washing dishes during the summers at its CNE restaurant location. Today, as the company’s president, Primucci is showcasing agility as he continues to lead Pizza Nova and its franchisees through the next phase of the pandemic.
“I’m a hands-on leader,” says Primucci. “My leadership style has remained relatively the same throughout the pandemic. My team knows who I am and what I expect of them.”
Established by Primucci’s father, Sam, and his three uncles in 1963, the first Pizza Nova restaurant opened in the eastern Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ont. In 1969, the first franchised location opened. Over the years, Pizza Nova has grown to more than 150 restaurant locations in Canada, many of them positioned in Ontario. Although Pizza Nova endured a large drop in new openings during the pandemic, the company has celebrated the opening of three new locations: Collingwood, Ont. in September 2020; Oshawa, Ont. in April 2021; and most recently, Courtice, Ont. in July 2022. Primucci says the company’s real-estate strategy has started to improve in recent months and will be key to unlocking future growth.
Over the course of the pandemic, Pizza Nova has been uniquely positioned to meet customers’ increased demand for comfort foods. Early on, the company successfully pivoted to a contactless delivery and pickup model to better support the needs of their customers while assuring the business stayed afloat. Over the next eight to 12 months, Pizza Nova plans to continue its technology innovation with website and app revisions, updated POS systems and a loyalty-program solution.
When asked about his experience leading franchisees through an unprecedented crisis, Primucci says “it’s been tough. Although we’re a brand with many franchisees and are considered a mid-to large-sized company, a franchisee is one person for one-store operation. In that sense, we’re really a collection of small businesses, and small-business owners are very concerned because they’ve invested their life savings into this. Now they have responsibilities and fixed costs that still need to be paid but [they don’t know] where that dollar is coming from. It was important for head office to re-assure them that we’re here for support and we’ll get through it.”
The company provided support to its franchisees in a number of ways. At the onset of the pandemic, Pizza Nova forgave royalties entirely for three weeks. Then, the company gradually increased royalties by one per cent every month, starting at zero, until the standard percentage was reached. This gradual increase took roughly five months. To this day, franchisees in select areas, such as the downtown core, have been given further concessions to help with reduced traffic.
“Some franchisees still aren’t back to normal. We need to continue to support our franchisees to look out for the health of the organization because every market is different,” says Primucci. “Stores in cottage country continue to do well, but stores in the downtown core are still struggling because many people haven’t returned to work or they’re not in a heavy employment area.”
Additionally, Pizza Nova opened a new support and call centre in North York in October 2021. “We ramped up communication with our franchisees and our teams. None of us have treaded these waters before, so the most important thing was to keep the lines of communication open,” says Primucci. “As a leader, I need to be able to give our franchisees assurances and provide explanations on how things are changing and what we have to do to move the business forward.”
Despite pandemic-related challenges, Pizza Nova continued to support Variety the Children’s Charity, through its That’s Amore Pizza for Kids fundraiser where 50 cents from each dip purchased is donated. In 2021, the company raised more than $201,000 and in 2022, it raised $203,284.
“During the pandemic, charitable organizations were hit hard as well. Not only did we have to worry about our business and its franchisees, but also our number-1 charitable organization, Variety,” says Primucci. “Everybody’s life has changed, and we still wanted to help out in the best way we could so the charity could continue to operate.”
After looking back on two-and-a-half years of resilience and grit, Primucci and his team are looking forward with optimism.
“It’s time to hit the re-fresh button,” he says. “We still need to be [mindful] of different variants coming through, but we’re starting to build back the company culture that we lost for a couple of years. Let’s get back to all the things we were working on pre-pandemic. We want to continue with the quality of our product, service to our customers and implanting technology. Although technology is useful, we’re in the restaurant business, [which] revolves around human interactions. We need to get back to those great experiences for our customers. That’s our main focus for Pizza Nova at this time.”
By Nicole Di Tomasso