By Austin Titus

As with any property, getting the location right is critical when opening a pizzeria. It’s also more complicated than just finding a convenient address at an affordable rent. A whole range of trade-offs can go into site selection. You may find yourself signing on for a place that doesn’t have everything you want but has what you need.

At Cannoli Kitchen Pizza, we grade prospective sites from most to least suitable: “A,” “B” and “C.” The “A” locations have everything we want. We’ve also found great success with “B” sites that lack a few less critical features but have all the essentials. We don’t dismiss “C” locations without looking, but we get very selective with them; they’d have to have something irresistible to overcome all the objections.

It’s a balancing act between finding the must-have features and the features you would like to have but can live without. As you seek a location for your pizza restaurant, remember that a perfect location isn’t always perfect. It doesn’t have to be a 10 out of 10; an 8 out of 10 can still work quite well.

The key is to be clear about your priorities and know the difference between your wants and your needs. Here’s how to look for a location that has what you need without making you feel like you’re settling for less.

Austin Titus, president of Cannoli Pizza Kitchen

Tips for Smart Site Searching
Know what you want. Set your sights as high as you want; save concessions for later. Don’t even start looking before you work out these criteria. You must go into the process knowing what you want and how likely you are to find it. We always start looking for “A” sites but with the expectation that we’ll be OK with a “B,” depending on what the trade-offs are. It’s not the preferred option, of course, but a reasonable rent could put the “B” over the top and land it on the “A” list.

Prioritize your wish list. Once you know what you want, decide what you must have and what would be nice to have but you could live without. Then leverage this list as you analyze each location and try to come up with resourceful solutions for locations that lack any of your “nice-to-have” criteria. For example, let’s say your highest priorities are rent, square footage and proximity to your target customers. If you find a spot that checks all those boxes but doesn’t have a “nice-to-have,” like visibility from the street, could you fix that with advertising? If you want to be in a shopping center with a major retailer, is that a deal-breaker, or do the other tenants seem to be doing brisk business without a big-name anchor?

Consider having a site selection team. A team of experts can use data to help you make a strategic, evidence-based decision about where to locate the restaurant. Give them information like demographics, average rents and the competitive landscape, and they can come back with possible locations. Once you find a likely spot and before you sign the lease, the team can also help you envision how the space will be when you build it out. They might see potential problems that could occur when updating the existing space and can help you find better alternatives.

Think outside the pizza box. Conventional thinking doesn’t always work in site selection. You might find the area you’re targeting already has five or six pizzerias. Should you avoid it because the market is saturated? Not necessarily. Do some research, and you might find they’re just average or below average, which gives you an opportunity to impress their customers. Or maybe there’s a void in the market that only you can fill.

As you navigate this part of the selection process, have your team find out how many pizzerias are in the city where you want to open and how many are for sale. Then, determine how many of those are available for the right price and would fit your wish list.

You may not be fishing from a big pool in certain cities, so sometimes it is best to get creative and look for other restaurants that might be similarly structured.

One of the towns where we want to open a new location doesn’t have a lot of pizzerias. (It’s hard to find a town that doesn’t have a lot of pizza restaurants, but we did it.) It has everything else we want, so we decided to think a little differently. We found a sandwich shop with a big walk-in refrigeration unit, a walk-in freezer, the grease traps we needed and even furniture we could use. It will require some construction, but it’s minimal.

I’ve also found that chicken wing restaurants are excellent because they always have the freezer, refrigeration and exhaust hood we need. It’s all about knowing your needs and visualizing how you can make it work with layouts that already exist.

Take your time. It’s tempting to sign a lease when you think you have everything you need, including the rent you can afford, but make sure your research is thorough. You haven’t spent any money yet and you’re not locked into the lease, so you have time to be sure of what you want. It’s best to avoid falling behind schedule on your opening because you rushed a decision that wasn’t the best for your business. Be patient in finding the right location. 

Efficiency From the Start
The key to a successful buildout is efficiency—being able to nail down everything you need from the beginning and doing your best to plan and avoid problems along the way. The more efficient you are from the get-go, the more successful your buildout and grand opening will be. 

AustinTitus is president of Cannoli Kitchen Pizza, a growing restaurant franchise founded in 1996 that serves not only fresh pizza, but also pasta, subs, wings and, of course, cannoli. Offering dine-in, takeout, delivery and catering options, it has seven locations throughout Florida with plans for expansion. The brand operates within the family of award-winning franchise brands at United Franchise Group.