Much like other pizza chains during COVID-19 pandemic, Peter Piper Pizza saw an uptick in delivery and pickup sales. Unlike its sister brand, Chuck E. Cheese, the bulk of Peter Piper’s sales come from food rather than arcade games, David McKillips, CEO of parent company CEC Entertainment, said.
Peter Piper’s recent off-premise success led CEC to open three Peter Piper Express units, which are 1,000-square-foot units offering to-go and delivery.
But the company didn’t stop there. After months of research and development, Peter Piper conceptualized a fast casual concept called Peter Piper Pizzeria with limited gaming and an expanded menu that includes not only its core pizza and wings, but also pastas and sandwiches, desserts, beer and wine, McKillips said.
Unlike its traditional Peter Piper Pizza restaurants, which are 14,000 to 15,000 square feet, the fast casual concept can range from 3,080 to 5,000 square feet, McKillips said. The fast casual units will have limited gaming compared to the brand’s traditional restaurants, which typically offer a buffet and several games. Those traditional units cater to families and special events, drawing heavy weekend business.
CEC will initially test two iterations of the Peter Piper Pizzeria concept and gather customer feedback. One will have limited games and another will have eight to 10 games.
“We think the Peter Piper Pizzeria fast casual unit could be very popular in the development opportunities outside the core of our Southwest routes,” McKillips said.
Peter Piper Pizza has just over 100 traditional locations, with a heavy presence in El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and Phoenix as well as locations in California and Mexico, McKillips said.
The first of Peter Piper Pizzeria’s corporate-owned units will open in February in Olathe, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, and a second is expected to open in April in Kansas City, McKillips said.
Other chains have been extending their brands through fast casual units, as well. IHOP opened its first Flip’d by IHOP store, which offers breakfast items like pancake bowls and egg sandwiches, in 2021. Friendly’s opened its fast casual concept Friendly’s Cafe last year. Outback Steakhouse opened the first domestic outpost of its fast casual spinoff, Aussie Grill, a few years ago.
Bringing pan pizza to its birthplace
CEC management chose Kansas City as the testing ground for its fast casual concept because it is a“great food city,” McKillips said. The company reviewed the area’s core demographics, cost of rent and media and growth within the suburbs and inner city, he said. Ultimately, the CEC team found that the transience of the Kansas City area could help grow national brand awareness.
Kansas City is also the birthplace of pan pizza, which is a key element to Peter Piper’s menu, McKillips said. The fast casual pizzeria uses a Roto-Flex oven, which cooks pizzas on several shelves and can hold 24 18-inch pizzas at one time. This will be the first time such an oven will be used in Kansas City, he said.
“We thought it would be great for us to make an entree of the brand, make an entree of this new oven and all of the other demographics and ancillary R&D that we looked at matched well for Kansas City,” McKillips said.
CEC is investing in the corporate fast casual concept to establish proof of concept and ensure it’s franchise friendly and easy to develop. In the future, the Peter Piper Pizzeria will be available to franchisees, McKillips said.
With the addition of the Peter Piper Express and Pizzeria concepts, CEC now has three expressions of the brand, which will create more opportunities for growth, McKillips said.
“The pizzeria is all about literally that fast casual experience,” McKillips said. “You can go in for lunch, you can go in for dinner, we’re going to be able to serve you quickly. … It’s got a great sit-down and off-premise capability as well.”
The Express units could fit easily into nontraditional locations like airports, ballparks and malls, McKillips said
“We think this brand has [the] strength to go in and develop any market across the country,” McKillips said.