Saturday, April 12, 2008

Straw Hat to Expand Pizza Chain, Launch Straw Hat Grills Brand

Chain’s First Straw Hat Grill to Open in Barstow, CA with Grand Opening Wednesday, April 16, 2008

As part of its rapid growth initiative, Straw Hat Pizza is debuting its new-concept restaurant, called Straw Hat Grill, in Barstow with a grand-opening celebration Wednesday, April 16, 2008. Once touted as California’s largest pizza chain, Straw Hat is aggressively ramping up again, planning to more than double in size, increasing its Straw Hat Pizza and Straw Hat Express locations to 100, from 45 by 2011.

The new-concept, 5,500-square-foot eatery is substantially larger than the average Straw Hat Pizza location at 4,000 square feet. But it will largely retain the same emphasis on family and a community gathering spot for great food.

"The Straw Hat Grill will cater to both the local community and traveling families and business travelers," said Jonathan Fornaci, the new president of Straw Hat Cooperative Corp. of San Ramon, who was brought on board in January to encourage rapid growth. He said the new restaurant, which he compared to Chili's Grill and Bar or T.G.I. Friday's, will feature typical sit down-eatery fare such as pasta, steak, ribs, burgers and pizza. Fornaci said Barstow was chosen as the initial location because it is the halfway point in the busy travel corridor between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it sits at the junction of busy Interstates 15 and 40, and the town of Barstow is a family oriented community. Families and business travelers are looking for a restaurant with great quality food in a wholesome, fun environment.

Located just a half-mile from his existing, Straw Hat Pizza location at 1930 E Main St., this is Jeff Eason, and his wife, Linda’s, second Straw Hat operation in Barstow. Adjacent to the Ramada Inn at 1505 E. Main St. the Grill is designed to bring a more upscale eatery to Barstow’s restaurant offerings. In addition to table-service dining, a full bar, and room service for guests at the adjacent hotel, the Grill expands the Straw Hat menu to include more ribs, steaks and pastas in addition to the signature pizza.

"We want customers to walk in and say WOW," says Eason, who has completely renovated the restaurant and added many upgrades to the existing building.

The company is also negotiating to open a Straw Hat Grill in Fremont later this quarter, one of 10 eventual locations, according to Fornaci.

Straw Hat Grills will be located exclusively on the West Coast, as will the 55 or so new Straw Hat Pizza and Straw Hat Express locations. Fornaci said the company is negotiating for it’s first-ever restaurant in Oregon and is also scouting sites in Washington and British Columbia, as well as in its existing strongholds of California and Nevada.

About Straw Hat Pizza Cooperative Corporation

The Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation is unique in that every restaurant owner is a shareholder in the cooperation, building equity from the first day of investment. Each restaurant represents one share of ownership. Members pay royalties – estimated to be one-third less than a typical franchise - to the cooperative and in return, receive marketing materials, better deals with suppliers, and ingredients and packaging manufactured by the cooperative.

Each owner also has a real say in Straw Hat’s future, which is gaining widespread attention in the industry. The Cooperative recently was named as one of America’s Hottest Franchises for 2008 and awarded the prestigious seal of Fair Franchising by the American Association Franchisees & Dealers (AAFD).

The company operates on a business model that is a cross between franchising and a traditional partnership. The core restaurants are run by cooperative owners who become shareholders in the cooperative after paying a fee of $25,000. Individual store owners are able to vote on company matters, including selecting the five-member board of directors, and share in company profits, which are distributed at the end of the fiscal year.

Today, Straw Hat Pizza is about to celebrate its 50th birthday and the chain is prepared to rapidly move in the other direction. The Straw Hat Cooperative Corp. of San Ramon plans to more than double in size, increasing its locations from to 100 from 50 by 2011, and expand from California and Nevada to Oregon.

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