Sports bar chain Beef ‘O’ Brady’s recently departed from its core menu offerings of burgers, burritos, bowls and Buffalo wings to join the pizza game.

In August, the 209-unit casual-dining restaurant introduced full-sized pizzas and appetizer-sized flatbreads on lavash.

Chief executive Chris Elliott said he and his team have been working on the new platform since he took the helm of the company in 2010.  

“We studied the customer base and got to understand that Beefs is an interesting concept in that it appeals to families with children and to sports fans. We thought pizza would be a natural fit,” Elliott said.

However, initial focus groups weren’t so sure.

“First they were skeptical about it,” he said. “They said, ‘Look, if you can do a really good pizza that will make you credible; that would be a good fit.’”

Elliott also knew that the pizza had to work within franchisees’ operational framework and not be too costly to implement.

“When we started this process, part of the selling point was that pizza has great margins, great customer appeal and great [perceived] value for the customer,” Elliott said.

The chain started experimenting with pizza in 2011, bringing in pizza presses to flatten out the dough, which was then proofed in coolers.

Through trial and error, that process was streamlined, and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s ultimately went with dough made according to the chain’s specifications that arrives pre-formed and frozen, ready for topping and baking.

“This dough was formulated specifically to be handled that way,” Elliott said.

Other than the dough, not many new items have had to be purchased by franchisees — just a few toppings such as pepperoni, sausage and whole-milk mozzarella. Additionally, the chain upgraded its marinara sauce.

Despite the fact that the price of cheese — the most costly ingredient in pizza — hit record highs in the spring, Elliott said the pizza has been well received by franchisees.

“When things don’t work, we get pushback, but when they work, [franchisees] embrace them. They’re driving incremental traffic, which is hard to come by in casual dining,” he said.

Elliott noted that the reception is particularly encouraging since the company didn’t start promoting the pizza until Monday, when it dropped its first direct mail promotion. A TV campaign will start the week of Sept. 1.