brand experience brief: pizza cucinova

The company behind Sbarro has created a new fast casual pizza concept, Pizza Cucinova. It’s a higher end customer experience than most brands aspiring to become the “Chipotle of pizza.” Check out this video audit and analysis of the brand experience:

DLYohn Brand Experience Brief: Pizza Cucinova from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.

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These days it seems every fast casual restaurant wants to be the “Chipotle of pizza.”  I’ve visited a few and today I’m going to show you one of the more distinctive ones:   Pizza Cucinova, a new concept by the folks behind Sbarro.   Currently there are only two locations in the Columbus Ohio area – I visited the original one and was impressed by the upscale experience at a good price.

Pizza Cucinova is designed to be at the high end of fast casual, with the CEO saying it is for the more discriminating consumer.  So while they have four classic pizza options, they offer unique specialty pizzas like the Bruschetta and the Caponata, and create your own pizzas with toppings that include more sophisticated options like eggplant, asiago cheese, and broccolini alongside more standard toppings.

The ordering process conveys a higher end experience as well.  An aproned food preparer starts by hand kneading and stretching the dough, then placing it on a long-handled pizza board, and applying olive oil and your selected sauce.  As you move down the line, the presentation of the toppings and salad options is artful and cues like a prosciutto slicing machine and chef-coat clad employees further enhance the upscale feeling.

The pizzas are placed into wood burning ovens at 700 degrees for a few minutes – and the stacks of wood and big pizza chef tools add to the visual theatre.  My orders, a Quattro Carni pizza and a custom pesto and argula creation, tasted very fresh and authentic (well, as authentic as pizza can be) although the dough was a bit chewy.

Drink selections include wines, craft beers on tap, and Italian sodas and there’s cheesecake baked fresh daily for dessert.  All of this enables the restaurant to deliver on the concept idea which is prominently displayed on one of the walls — “the craft of pizza making.”

The restaurant décor features distressed wood, funky mod metal chairs, and vintage-style light fixtures – along with what has become the fast casual standard, a bar-height community table.  The exterior looks like a higher end Italian restaurant chain like Brio’s or Maggiano’s.

So you can see Pizza Cucinova is a more upscale, culinary version of other fast casual pizza concepts like Blaze Pizza and Pie Five – and although some of those other chains offer unlimited toppings, the quality and vibe of this restaurant made it still seem like a good value proposition.  I actually would have expected to pay more than we did.  Classic pizzas start at around $6 for a 10” pie and specialty options are around $10.  And the restaurant was running a great Happy Hour deal — two 10” pizzas for $10 and specials on craft beers.

My only concern is that at 3,500 square feet, the restaurant is a big wide open space – my sense is it might be a little too big for the volume of business it gets, but I didn’t visit during the lunch hour so I can’t say for sure. So we’ll have to wait to see whether or not Pizza Cucinova takes off – I hope so.

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