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pizza jukebox.jpg Photo courtesy of BRIX Holdings
BRIX Holdings' new proprietary brand, Pizza Jukebox, features a robot pizza maker. The company plans to grow the concept in the near term.

Why BRIX Holdings is bullish on automation

BRIX Holdings chief technology officer Carissa DeSantis said the company’s tech stack has been updated to better position the company for further growth.

BRIX Holdings has been on a steady growth path throughout the past several years, adding brands like Friendly’s, Red Mango, Orange Leaf, Smoothie Factory, Souper Salad, RedBrick Pizza, and Greenz, to its portfolio. The company is targeting even more concepts, but in order to grow effectively, it first had to get its tech stack in order.

Enter Carissa DeSantis, who was named parent company JAMCO Interests’ chief technology officer in late 2021 after a stint as chief information officer of Dickey’s Barbecue.

DeSantis’ first priority was to get the company caught up in the dizzying world of restaurant technology. To understand just how much catch-up work had to be done, consider Friendly’s Restaurants, which BRIX acquired in early 2021. According to DeSantis, the 88-year-old brand was a pioneer in technology in the late 1990s, when it was the first to install a Micros Res 3700 point-of-sale.

“It was cutting edge stuff at the time. Then they didn’t touch it for almost three decades,” she said during a recent interview. “One of the reasons [BRIX] brought me on was due to our multiple brands and acquisitions, and then throw Covid in there. Everything was disjointed, nothing was cohesive, there wasn’t a source of truth for data – everybody was using something different.”

Once she and her team were able to get those systems centralized, the company would be better positioned to grow, she added. That’s the continued goal at BRIX, whether through franchising, acquisitions or even the creation of its own brands. In June, for instance, BRIX opened its first proprietary brand, called Pizza Jukebox, inside of a Walmart in Frisco, Texas.

Pizza Jukebox illustrates just how much work has been done in the past two years on that tech side. Not only has BRIX streamlined its POS system and network, its proprietary concept is fully automated, with a robotic arm slicing pepperoni, adding sauce and cheese, and placing pizzas in the oven. The “Pizzabot,” as it’s called, was developed by L2F, a Middleby company.

Notably, BRIX had already proven this automated system out in its Red Mango concept. So far, the tech has proven to be efficient, enabling faster and more consistent product delivery, and freeing employees from repetitive tasks so they can use that time to engage with guests. DeSantis is bullish about automation accordingly.

“In the restaurant industry, if you’re not looking at or deploying any sort of automation or robotics, you’re behind the curve,” she said. “Five or six years ago, it was ridiculously expensive. It’s a lot more cost effective now, so if you’re not deploying that, you’re going to have to play catch up.”

Speaking of bullishness, DeSantis said BRIX expects to open a second Pizza Jukebox by the end of this year and can see 50 to 100 such units in the near term.

“We’re open to any and all opportunities we can to fill a niche in the business,” she said. “Nothing is off the table.”

As such opportunities come about, DeSantis is already thinking about the next phase of growth, including the potential to brand all of BRIX’s concepts in one mobile application.

“I’m excited to be able to do the 2.0 version of everything. We did the nitty gritty back-of-the-house ripping out, gutting, putting all new stuff in,” she said. “Now let’s take it to the next level.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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