Regional Company of the Year: Pizza Nova

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Photo by Nick Wong

Quality continues to be the mantra for Pizza Nova. After nearly 55 years in business, the iconic brand continues to grow, offering the fresh, healthy and largely local ingredients and excellent customer service Ontarians have come to expect. It all started with the vision of an Italian immigrant, Sam Primucci and now, it’s his son Domenic who is leading the charge.

“You’ve got to give credit to [Sam] for carving out the niche and allowing other people to be successful,” says Domenic Primucci, president and CEO of Pizza Nova. “We’ve taken his mantra [we deliver quality] and built on it to deliver a quality product to Canadians.” Founded in 1963 with just one restaurant in Scarborough, Ont., the popular pizza chain now boasts more than 140 locations in Ontario — as far north as Huntsville; Peterborough to the east; Kitchener-Waterloo to the west; Hamilton to the south; and a large number of stores in the Greater Toronto Area — and recorded $139 million in sales last year. Domenic Primucci, president and CEO of Pizza Nova, says the company is always aggressively looking for new locations to enhance market share and believes there are still a number of excellent markets to serve.

The company has rolled out its franchise model slowly, ensuring each location is successful. “There’s nothing more important than getting it right. We don’t grow 50, 60 stores in a year,” Primucci notes. “The whole thing behind that is that each location is successful. We don’t want to close locations. That’s part of our DNA — do the best that we can do, always.”

With more than 35 gourmet toppings and 27 specialty pizzas — as well as pasta, wings and sides — Pizza Nova has come a long way since its first location opened at the corner of Lawrence Ave. E. The first franchised unit opened in 1966.

And the company isn’t afraid of change. In a world of evolving food trends, the pizza sector has had to adapt its approach to traditional market trends. With more people looking for gluten-free, non-GMO and vegetarian/vegan products, Pizza Nova has been a leader in the field, introducing antibiotic- and hormone-free pepperoni for its customers. It’s also been active in bringing dairy-free cheese and vegan crust to the forefront, giving its current customer base new and exciting food options, while drawing new customers to its doors.

“We’ve been open to change and to evolving,” Primucci says. “We’re going on 55 years in business and we’ve changed numerous times over the years. We’ve changed the food, the way we’ve communicated and even the logos in order to stay relevant. If you don’t stay relevant, you’ll be passed over. That’s not who we want to be. We want to be here for a long time.”

But introducing health-conscious menu options doesn’t come without its challenges, says Primucci. For example, in changing to a cleaner pepperoni and switching to dairy and vegetarian-friendly products, the Pizza-Nova team also had to ensure the supply was there.

“Our goal was to buy not just for today but for tomorrow as well,” he adds “We don’t follow trends. There’s a shift in the market. A trend is something that comes and goes. The health aspect of what people are looking for is not a trend, it’s staying.”

But, through innovation and planning, the company has emerged as one of the leaders in its segment. Primucci credits his team — which helps execute Pizza Nova’s vision — for the brand’s success. He says one of the key lessons he learned as a young manager who came up through the ranks as a dishwasher, cook and pizza-delivery driver, was to value your team. He started working with the company at age 15, doing various jobs in order to embrace what it takes to run a successful restaurant — and a successful brand.

“We’re all as good as our team,” Primucci notes. “If you don’t have a great team, there’s only so much you can do. No one person can do it all — that’s relevant in any organization. Some of the greatest leaders in the world didn’t do it all; they had great people to execute the vision.”

In 2014, Pizza Nova and the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as the Rogers Centre, struck a partnership agreement to offer its products at the venue. What started as a three-year partnership has grown into five years of successful collaboration. The partnership not only allows Pizza Nova’s products to be at the stadium for events, but also includes lucrative access to in-stadium signage and use of the Blue Jays logos and trademarks.

While a majority of the company’s stores are in Ontario, the move has helped the company market and promote its products to Canadian audiences nationwide — giving them credibility on a national scale.

“We’ve had great results,” he says. “We’ve been able to grow the business through a professional sports team. Even though our brand isn’t across Canada, it helps with marketing and recognition.”

For a company that’s been recognized for its commitment to its customers, Pizza’s Nova’s commitment to the community is worth a look as well. Working with Variety Village, Villa Charities, Coins for Breakfast and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, the pizza chain has donated millions of dollars, and even more time, into giving back to the communities that it serves.

Last year, Pizza Nova raised $118,000 for Variety Village and Primucci says the company has given more than $1.6 million since it started working with the charity almost 20 years ago. It’s also contributed to charities that sponsor breakfast programs for children.

“It’s amazing how many kids go to school hungry in this province,” he says. “There’s over a million kids a day that go hungry. We’re supposed to be in a first-world nation and we have this in our backyards? There’s something wrong. The government needs to do more, but until then, it’s on the corporate world to do its part.”

 

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