Better food, fast
With origins that started as a sketch on the back of a napkin, Piada is today a fast-growing, much sought after restaurant concept, serving exceptional Italian street food in the heart of the United States
Inspiration can come from all manner of things, whether it be a piece of art, a song or simply a dream. For Chris Doody, inspiration for what would become his fast-casual Italian cuisine restaurant chain came from a trip to Rimini, Italy. It was here that he was enthralled by the charm of the family-operated food carts and corner markets that are found scattered throughout the city. Having sampled some of the fantastic hand-made meals – including a few Piadas (Italian flatbread, traditionally baked on a terracotta dish or stone grill) themselves – Chris knew that he wanted to capture the essence of Rimini and bring it back to the United States.
“It was on the flight home, in fact, that Chris actually began to sketch out the idea for the first Piada Italian Street Food (Piada) restaurant on the back of a napkin given to him by one of the flight attendants,” reveals Piada’s Chief Operating Officer, Lance Juhas. “Arriving back in Columbus, Ohio, he gathered up a team and began working on making the concept a reality.”
That reality was realized in 2010, when the first Piada restaurant opened its doors in Columbus. Its mission was to create fresh, modern Italian food, with a focus on the preparation of high-quality ingredients and attention to simplistic cooking. Since then, the brand has extended out into seven different states, with 38 restaurants bearing its name, and plans for new locations to appear in both existing and new markets in the near future.
The success of Piada has come about – in part – due to its belief that one does not have to sacrifice quality and flavor in the pursuit of speed and value. “We remain guided by our mission to create delicious, high-quality food for our guests to enjoy, whether this be in the form of our hand-rolled Piadas, our pasta bowls – with our number one being our Carbonara dish – or our chopped salads,” Lance continues. “We also strive to bring unique items and flavors to our guests, and we are one of the only concepts out there within our price point or segment to offer things like grilled-to-order salmon or fresh, fried calamari.
“Internally, each of our restaurants is run by a chef – not a manager – and it is they who perform regular daily line checks, morning, afternoon and evening, to ensure that the quality of our ingredients and meals remain as expected at all times. Then, overseeing everything are our corporate chefs, including Executive Chef Matt Harding, who is the leader of our Culinary Team. Matt brings with himself decades of experience in the kitchen, which he today uses to keep Piada fresh, inspired, and cutting edge, and we are extremely lucky to have him here!”
When seeking out locations for a potential new restaurant, Piada’s teams look for several key characteristics, which Lance refers to as the ‘Three D’s’ – Daytime, Density and Diversity. “One of the things we look for in a location is its potential to attract daytime business,” he says. “The irony of this year and Covid-19 is that actually it is currently our evening business that is outperforming lunchtime sales, as more people are working from home, however high potential for daytime customers is still a key trait for us. Density is just as important, meaning that we look to identify areas with high volumes of consumer reach and traffic. For instance, we have enjoyed strong sales at our restaurants based in suburban and out-of-town locations.
“Diversity, meanwhile, is a really big thing for Piada. Our concept appeals to virtually everyone, meaning that when you walk into one of our restaurants you will see customers from all walks of life. This has resulted in some of our busiest and most successful restaurants being found in our most diverse markets.”
Wherever a new Piada restaurant is opened, what matters most is that it retains the authenticity that the brand has come to be known for. “Our values are very firm and revolve around making delicious food, whilst providing an overwhelming degree of hospitality and customer service, no matter where we are found,” Lance states. “From executive level down, we strive to hold every single one of the team accountable for helping the business to succeed, and we have a fantastic group of operators who visit our restaurants continuously to observe that standards are always being maintained. This, however, wouldn’t be possible without the fantastic efforts of our restaurant employees.
“These men and women are the heart and soul of what we do, and they have proven themselves to be incredibly resilient this year in particular in navigating the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst remaining committed to our guests and the quality promises we make as a business. For our part as an executive team, it is vital that we continue to display to our restaurant teams how much we value and appreciate their hard work, and heading into the holiday season we will be engaging with them in things like our annual Gift Card contest, where we provide incentives and bonuses to our best performing people.”
It is certainly true to say that, in pulling together collectively, the business has done extremely well in facing the challenges that 2020 has posed. Part of its response has also been the introduction of different service models and initiatives. “Just prior to the pandemic hitting, we had already set about introducing dedicated ‘carry-out’ lines into our restaurants,” Lance adds. “With our carry-out sales increasing from around 30 per cent of total sales pre-Covid-19, to now around 80 per cent, it has been very important that we have refocused on those lines to make sure that they can accommodate higher volumes.
“We have also had some promising results in launching our pick-up window system at several of our locations, whereby customers could pre-order their food through an App and drive up to a collection window to receive their meals. We have also incorporated a Kitchen Display System (KDS), which has really improved the estate in terms of throughput and the consistency of our carry-out service. So, looking towards the future, we will be seeking out further locations in which we can incorporate a pick-up and drive thru window, as well as locations with adequate space to provide us with multiple, exclusive road-side carry-out slots.”
When it comes to its 2021 and beyond, the business has designs on opening between six and eight new locations in the next 12 months, and hopes that even more will follow in the years to come. “Even with the effects of the pandemic, our business, sales and profitability are stronger today than ever before, and our goal is to build upon this by building more restaurants,” Lance enthuses. “If we continue to grow and be successful, then the roadmap that we are on will provide excellent futures for our teams across our estate. Therefore, I believe it is safe to say that the future for Piada is extremely bright indeed.”