Sbarro to open test units, tweak menu


Jim Greco is only about 60 days into his new job as president and chief executive at Sbarro Inc., but the turnaround veteran already has big plans for the Italian quick-service brand.

Greco, who joined the 1,025-unit chain soon after it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protectionin November, says management currently is executing a short-term 100-day plan that will include the launch of 10 test units in June. Those locations will showcase some of Sbarro’s new strategic initiatives — such as reformulated pizzas and made-to-order pasta dishes.

As part of his longer term vision, Greco said he plans to shift the Melville, N.Y.-based brand away from its quick-service roots and into the fast-casual arena over the next several years.

“The vision is to be the preeminent fast-casual Italian brand worldwide,” Greco told Nation’s Restaurant News Friday. “We think it is a space that fits Sbarro well and one which nobody of any size has yet claimed. And we think it is one we can own in a relatively short period of time.”

Meanwhile, the chain’s short-term strategic plan calls for a focus on four categories — “people, place, product and positioning,” he said.

On the product front, Sbarro is revamping its pizza and pasta offerings. “We’re making tweaks to recipes and also are changing procedures for both,” said Greco, who most recently was chief executive of Bruegger’s Bagels and co-chief executive of parent Le Duff America.

“We’ve hired consultants who have a lot of experience in the Italian space, and they’re helping us,” he said. “We will have an even more desirable pizza offering and totally new pasta offerings that will be made-to-order.”

As part of the recipe reformulation process, Sbarro is making some tweaks to its pizza dough, which is prepared fresh every day, he said, adding, “It will improve the taste and texture.”

Likewise, Sbarro is making changes to other ingredients, like its tomato sauce.

“We contract to have our own tomatoes grown and packed in California,” he said. “That will remain the same, but we plan on adjusting the seasonings used in the sauce.”

The chain also plans to use better cheese in its dishes, he said.

Greco said guests will have several different choices of pasta and sauces. “Pasta will be made-to-order in sauté pans and with induction cooktops — which will mean new equipment for each outlet,” he said. The revamped cooking battery also will include new ovens.

These new initiatives will be introduced to the public in early June at 10 test units that will be “designed to show what we’re doing and get feedback,” Greco said. And while the test units “will not be fully redesigned — we’re not ready for that yet — they will be refreshed. A new design will be unveiled later this year.”