Pizza Inn also reimagined Jojo, its classic mascot. Before 2022’s version, there have been six other iterations of Jojo, all of which show him tossing a pizza with two hands and long sleeves. The newest edition depicts the mascot with a clenched right fist and rolled up sleeves—a visual that speaks to Pizza Inn’s blue-collar roots. Solano calls franchisees and customers “gritty folks” who aren’t “vacationing in the Cayman Islands.”
“Our image I think could really use some updating,” Solano says. “We've got a lot of old assets, and we're really looking forward to getting the first couple done, taking a look at sales, taking a look at the cost, determining a return on investment, and sharing that opportunity with our franchise partners.”
The CEO notes that Pizza Inn once had hundreds of buffets. Although it’s a long road ahead to recoup that footprint, Solano prefers to start in communities where the chain once had high-volume stores and a lot of space is available, like Asheboro. He believes Pizza Inn can grow 10x from where it’s at today without entering a new market. Solano says the company has “latent equity.” For example, when he’s traveling and wearing his Pizza Inn gear, people often stop him and ask when Pizza Inn is coming back. He also sees the desire across social media.
Whether it’s five years or 20 years, customers remember their Pizza Inn experience, Solano says. He recalls a recent reopening in Blytheville, Arkansas, a store that was temporarily closed for four months. The restaurant features some of the new brand elements, and is operated by a 23-year-old local steel mill worker who didn’t quit his day job. Sales are increasing, to the point that Solano had to park in a different lot just to make it inside for lunch on a Thursday. The CEO has seen similar results in reopenings in Waycross, Georgia, and Elizabethton, Tennessee.
“We take places where we've had success in the past, we come in with new franchisees and a new building and a new menu and we're really showing tremendous growth,” Solano says. “We've had a number of stores that have reopened.”
In addition to social experiences, the new image is about bringing Pizza Inn’s food quality to life. Solano acknowledges that one of the biggest knocks on buffets is menu inadequacy, but he refutes that criticism with Pizza Inn making its dough in-house, grating cheese blocks of whole milk mozzarella, creating ranch dressing from scratch, and chopping the salad bar each morning.
Pizza Inn isn’t compelling franchisees to transition to the reimage yet. The company will first collect data on costs, sales, and ROI, before making their official pitch. But Solano suspects it will be a success.
“We're trying to create selective demand for our brand, not primary demand for the category,” Solano says. “So we don't want people to say, ‘Hey, let's get pizza. We want consumers to say, ‘Let's go to Pizza Inn because that's where I can have this amazing experience.’”