While most of the restaurant industry has been set back by labor shortage woes, Capriotti’s and its sister brand Wing Zone have spent much of the past year investing in solutions to these shortages. And unlike many of its colleagues, Capriotti’s is not trying to lure employees in with promises of new benefits and company culture changes. Instead, CEO Ashley Morris said, they are embracing automation and digital solutions, especially in the wake of the Wing Zone acquisition in Jan. 2021.
“I don’t think the labor challenges we're facing are ever going to get better,” Morris said. “What the pandemic did for the industry, good or bad, is allow people to develop skills and start businesses online or find some other way to make money. … It’s a natural progression happening at a pretty rapid scale. So, automation is becoming necessary for the industry in order to perform the jobs that need to be performed inside the restaurant space.”
Most recently, Capriotti’s announced partnerships with Wavemaker Labs (the incubator that launched Miso Robotics) to open franchised stores with the intention of testing AI and automation technologies, and Piestro to bring automated pizzamakers (and pizza on the menu for the first time) to select locations. These investments are just the latest developments in a digital-forward strategy the Las Vegas-based sandwich chain has developed since the pandemic. Capriotti’s, for example, has added AI capabilities for phone orders, and the company is working on making Wing Zone a tech-forward brand with cashier-free stores and even more kitchen robots.
“Throughout the pandemic, there was a substantial amount of customers who changed their behavior and no longer went into restaurants to order,” Morris said. “Now you have more than 50% of customers ordering online or through apps. … So when you have more than 50% of your business coming through some digital presence, it really does create an opportunity for you to add digital offerings that customers may like. Our customers trust the brand and they trust the quality.”
With the acquisition of Wing Zone in 2021, Capriotti’s has been full-steam-ahead with development, with Morris suggesting that both brands have a large store pipeline in the works. Between both brands, Capriotti’s and Wing Zone today total nearly 400 locations, with a plan to open 60 stores by the end of 2022.
In light of the industry-wide inflation and labor challenges, what is the secret to Capriotti’s continued success?
“Capriotti’s is really a true restaurant operating as a quick-service restaurant,” Morris said, “so when the world shut down and then reopened, people went back to what makes them happy.”
Capriotti’s will be honored as the Brand Creator (200 units and less) at CREATE: The Future of Foodservice in Denver, taking place Sept. 19-21.
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
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