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Meanwhile, the company hopes to carve out a niche at the more premium end of the pizza spectrum with Pizza Cucinova, which joins a growing number of fast-casual pizza players racing for national or regional domination.

Chains with aggressive growth plans include Your Pie; MOD Pizza; Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza; Pie Five; PizzaRev; Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint; Live Basil Pizza and Project Pie, just to name a few. Quick-service competitor Fazoli’s also recently announced plans to open a fast-casual pizza concept called Venti-Tre in Baltimore next year.

Karam acknowledged that the space is crowded but he said most entrants are relatively small. “It’s an emerging category,” he said, noting that the pizza segment overall is already crowded with independents and big chains that “have been beating each other up over price for the past decade or even two decades.”

Customers in line at Pizza CucinovaThe market was ripe for the evolution of pizza as a more premium product, he said. “Artisan pizza isn’t going to command the lion’s share, but I think it will siphon off a portion of the category for consumers who are looking for better quality and more differentiated products,” he said. “And it’s relatively virgin territory.”

Sbarro is joining the game with an advantage, he added. “I like the fact that we’ve got a management team that has the experience running a very, very large brand — myself included. And we’ve got an infrastructure ready to scale, and a brand and concept that’s been refined as a result of the talent we’ve brought to it, both internal and external,” said Karam.

Karam said Sbarro would explore franchising the Pizza Cucinova brand down the road, once the company has refined the brand. Still, because of the challenging culinary component, Karam added that the company will likely be very “deliberate and selective” about choosing the right franchise partners to grow the brand.

“Our focus right now is one store at a time, one customer at a time,” said Karam. “I don’t want to be the fastest-growing player, and I don’t necessarily want to be the biggest. We just want to be the best in this space.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout