By Tracy Morin

Ever read about a business-savvy pizzeria owner who’s drumming up sky-high sales and wonder how he does it? Or feel a twinge of envy when the competitor down the street grabs a local news headline? What if that promotion whiz could be you?

According to owners who are making waves with their creative promos, partnerships and in-person events that sizzle across social media and spark community word-of-mouth, you can be. It’s just a matter of trying out new things and seeing what sticks with your customer base. Grab some inspiration from these two pizzerias, both pros at standing out through creative promos.


 Cicis Pizza #353 in Charlotte gets creative with pizza challenges.

Case Study #1: Community Connections

Tom “Slices” Hamilton, franchisee at Cicis Pizza #353 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his store’s general manager, Paul Abernathy, love thinking up new and creative challenges that earn attention and praise from customers and employees alike. For example, during National Pizza Month, they ran a promotion in which staff members created their own specialty pizzas for the menu, with 50% of each sale being returned to the staff member. Meanwhile, the annual Cicis Pizza Challenge pits customer teams against each other in a race to finish a monster-size pie.

“The pizza challenges are always a hit: A team of two has the opportunity to finish our 28” Piezilla pizza and two large drinks in under an hour to win $300,” Abernathy explains. “Our most creative promotion is definitely having employees come up with their own unique pizzas and having them market and try to sell them. And, in terms of community impact, I would say our most successful promotions are early-morning pizza workshops with kids, movie nights in the local park, or school spirit night fundraising efforts.”

Both social media and word-of-mouth help spread the news about these promotions. Hamilton notes that everyone from preachers, teachers and coaches to team members’ and guests’ circles of family and friends embrace these moments, helping the pizzeria stay relevant. Their efforts also paid off during the pandemic, when, Hamilton says, the community rallied around the business to keep it open and thriving. “Our community is vital to our growth, and our creative promotions help us connect more with them,” Abernathy adds. “We pour into the community (including schools, churches and businesses), and we hope we leave a positive impact where we can.”

Related: 8 ways your pizzeria can score big sales during March Madness

Of course, the pizza challenges, creative promos, staff recognition and community outreach are all elevated by social media, one area where Hamilton excels. But for him, it’s more about making great memories—which helps Cicis stay top-of-mind. “Everything we do is for our community in some way,” Hamilton notes. “The fun, the value, the memories made—after over 24 years in this business, the relationships made over the years stand out the most. Unfortunately, as much as you try in this industry to stay present in consumers’ minds, they still forget. So the more we can do to stay connected, hopefully that makes the difference.”


Houston Ballet dancers have teamed up with Vinny’s to raise money.

Case Study #2: The All-Purpose Pizzeria

Vinny’s in Houston may be competing with hordes of restaurants in a major city, but its work with local nonprofits, sports teams and other organizations definitely helps it rise to the top. “For our brand, promotions are important because they’re a way to reinforce our purpose as a neighborhood pizzeria,” says Vincent Huynh, owner of Agricole Hospitality, which owns Vinny’s. “The pizzeria is a space where the community comes to you: downtown office workers, Little League teams, families for dinner or delivery, concert-goers, sports fans, younger people going out for nightlife. Everyone’s engaging with the space in different ways, and we wanted to have our creativity go beyond just menu items.”

Mission accomplished: Vinny’s has hit many promo home runs since its 2018 opening through the Vinny’s Pizza Partnership Series, which was created to give back to the Houston community and to foster meaningful relationships between local organizations in different industries. These efforts have benefited a long list of organizations: the Houston Dash, the Houston Ballet, the Houston Zoo, FIRST Robotics, The Montrose Center, and the Children’s Museum of Houston, to name a few. Here are some memorable examples:

  • Last October, a portion of proceeds supported children, caretakers and services linked to Child Protective Service cases through Be a Resource Houston. The fundraising BEAR Necessities and BEAR-y Scary pies and slices, crafted by the Be a Resource and Vinny’s teams, were offered in the Vinny’s dining room and for pickup.
  • In partnership with the Children’s Museum of Houston, guests who dined at Vinny’s and visited the museum between August 1 and 31, 2023, received discounts on pizza, museum admission and museum membership throughout the month. In an interactive touch, anyone who ordered a pepperoni pie received a special clue on the bottom, as a nod to the Children’s Museum’s Secret Spy Experience.
  • Last November’s partnership with ComedySportz, to celebrate the local improv comedy show’s 33rd anniversary in Houston, offered discounts on pizza and show admission throughout the month. A limited-time pizza was crafted by Vinny’s executive chef Paul Lewis and the ComedySportz team.
  • Vinny’s teamed with The Montrose Center to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride month last June, creating a rainbow flag-inspired pizza. A portion of proceeds from sales of the pizzas all month long went to The Montrose Center’s efforts in helping LGBTQ+ youth and adults.
  • When Vinny’s pitted herbivores against carnivores with two specialty veggie and meat pizzas, asking for customers’ vote for their favorite, everyone was a winner—especially endangered animals. A portion of proceeds from the sales of both pizzas benefited the Houston Zoo’s wildlife conservation efforts.

More important than contributing financially to the pizzeria or landing local headlines, Huynh believes, is the fact that these near-constant collaborations keep customers excited about the pizzeria. “They’re seeing that there’s always something new and engaging happening here,” he notes.

In terms of advice for other owners looking to stand out through attention-grabbing promotions, Huynh advises a mix of customer input and old-fashioned owner instinct. “I think it’s important to listen to your customers and engage with them and their feedback—if you get one or two comments a day, that’s very important feedback,” Huynh says. “But also trust yourself. Do what you like. Experiences are what people come to you for. Instead of fitting your ideas to everyone else, stand out and be yourself!”