For 40 years, Gatti’s Pizza (Gatti’s) has been bringing together two of America’s favorite pastimes: food and entertainment. Since 1969, the Gatti’s concept, which integrates dine-in eating, delivery service and family game rooms backed by traditional, high-quality pizza, has spread across more than 13 states with 17 company-owned stores and 83 franchises.
“The quality of our food really stands out,” says Steve Burt, president and CEO of Gatti’s. “We compete with some of the larger chains, such as CiCi’s, Chuck E. Cheese and Domino’s, but our food really speaks for itself. We’re also a great place for family entertainment, birthday celebrations and large group special events and meetings.”
The original Gatti’s
The Texas-based company’s concept was the vision of Air Force Colonel James Eure, founder and creator of Gatti’s. Eure opened The Pizza Place in September 1964 in Stephenville, Texas. “In 1969, Eure moved to Austin and opened the first Mr. Gatti’s Pizza restaurant, and the name Gatti was a tribute to his wife’s maiden name,” recalls Burt.
From the beginning, Eure worked long hours to master the recipe that makes people crave Gatti’s pizza: real provolone cheese (no imitations allowed), yeast-risen dough made fresh daily, a signature bold pizza sauce and classic toppings.
“Eure’s first Austin location quickly grew in popularity and things really started to grow and take off from there,” recounts Burt. “Gatti’s started franchising in 1974 and before long, there were restaurants popping up all over the Southwest. It started as just pizza, but Gatti’s eventually diversified its model, adding large scale family entertainment centers.” After all, pizza and family fun go hand in hand.
Food and fun come together
In the 1980s, Gatti’s developed its first buffet-style restaurants, featuring state-of-the-art game rooms. The idea to merge the dining and entertainment experience began an evolution that eventually led to the famous GattiTown.
“GattiTown stores are typically more than 18,000 square feet, whereas regular Gatti’s are dine-in and delivery facilities,” explains Burt. “Some of the Gatti’s restaurants have midway-style game rooms, but the emphasis has always been the food.” The development of GattiTown has helped the company cater to large groups and events, from birthdays to Rotary Club or PTA meetings; Gatti’s delivers a great value-oriented environment for groups to gather.
Today, Gatti’s reaches more than 13 states with corporate offices still headquartered in Austin. “There are now about 100 stores, mostly in Texas and the Southeast, but we go as far north and east as Ohio and West Virginia,” notes Burt.
While the Gatti’s concept is front and center, Burt says the local franchises are independently owned and part of each individual community. “When selecting a new location we use site selection software to map out a city,” he reveals. “Based on existing business and what’s been successful, we can determine which type of Gatti’s will work and tell the franchisee the best concept for their area.”
Revive and revitalize
Although Gatti’s has enjoyed national success for more than 40 years, like any good company, Gatti’s must grow and renew to remain competitive and innovative. “We’re excited to be rolling out a new reimaging plan and we’re revamping our entire concept,” details Burt. “From a new color palette to graphics and Coke freestyle machines with touch-screens, new furniture, a legacy piece celebrating our history and a testament to our brand promise, we’re actively redeveloping our franchise to target multiunit developers who want to diversify into pizza.”
Burt says the exciting reveal is nearly complete. “We first introduced the changes in the Austin stores and we’re going to present the new design in a series of regional meetings in April to our franchise partners,” he continues. “It’s a great opportunity. In fact, we’re working with a company that has done graphics and design for Whole Foods Markets.”
So far, the changes have been warmly received in the Austin market and Burt says that gives corporate Gatti’s a good case to show its franchise partners the money is well spent. “Our franchise partners look to us for leadership,” he explains. “This look is very different from the previous standard, so it’s good to show them the return on investment results from the Austin market to build their confidence.”
Gatti’s is also bringing in new games for the company stores. “We constantly want to revitalize our game selection because we can demonstrate positive year over year same store sales comps in our family entertainment centers,” notes Burt. “Every year we go to industry shows where we can see the new games in action.”
The revitalization and reimaging plans come at a great time for Gatti’s now that the company is on the upside of the economic downturn. “Our year-over-year comps were significantly down through 2008 and 2009,” reveals Burt. “Now, they’re coming back strong and the numbers are looking really good.”
After four decades, Gatti’s is dusting off its model, preparing for the next 40 years. While much has changed, the recipes and commitment to good food and family fun remain at Gatti’s Pizza.