In 2008, Salvatore Reina co-founded Francesca Pizza & Pasta in Glen Rock, New Jersey, with financial backing from his brother, Gino. Several years later, Reina opened a second Francesca Pizza & Pasta with Adam Vuksanic in Elmwood Park—about 15 minutes down the road. Gino was a business partner in that venture as well.

In late 2020, Reina was shooting the breeze with Vuksanic. He doesn’t remember how it came up, but they started talking about the ghost kitchen trend. If they were going to do that, what type of concept would they choose? Burgers, maybe?

“And I said, no,” Reina recalled. “Let’s just do something with the ingredients we already have. Let’s keep it as simple as possible. I keep hearing about Detroit-style pizza. What if we did something with that?” 

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The following is a Q&A with Reina, lightly edited for clarity, about how Francesca Pizza & Pasta opened SQUARED, a Detroit-style pizza virtual brand, and very quickly turned it into a revenue windfall. 

PMQ: After launching SQUARED, how quickly did that aspect of your business grow? 

Reina: I remember, at the beginning, we were getting a pie per day, and that was exciting. But now, I was looking at it in preparation for our interview, and it makes up 15% of our business. Last year, even six months ago, it was 10%, and now it’s 15. It’s helped us tremendously in the financial sense. 

I can’t highlight enough that if anybody who owns a pizzeria wants to do this, you might be looking around like, maybe we could do burgers or wings. But why? We already had the SKUs and the ovens and everything. We didn’t need to add any new equipment or products. Think about keeping it simple.

PMQ: How did you go from selling one pie per night to the point where Squared accounted for 15% of the store’s revenue? 

Reina: “I give Adam the most credit for that. He did an excellent job targeting foodie influencers in our area. We didn’t just go after the ones with 100,000 followers; it could be somebody with 700 followers. He would just basically copy and paste the same message to them: “Hey, we’re launching this new pizza project, the meal is on me. If you want to post about it, that’s awesome, we’re looking for honest feedback.”

We’ve grown really organically like that. We’ve never paid for a follower, never paid for a like. But Adam was really focused on that, and now we have over 5,500 followers on the SQUARED Instagram page (@njsquared). And we actually had one post that went viral, and we started selling out of our square pies every single day. We do 40 pies per night, Tuesday through Friday, and we sold out every day for, like, one straight month after that post.” 

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PMQ: It sounds like one of the best parts of SQUARED is that it really didn’t add much operational complexity, and yet it grew your revenue in a serious way? Almost like, working 5% harder got you 15% more money? 

Reina: That’s exactly correct. Think about this: I didn’t really have to re-train the kitchen guys. It’s the same dough recipe. We par-bake our crusts so that when an order comes in, they’re ready to roll. And yet the two concepts are kind of their own separate things. They aren’t really competing with each other. We still, to this day, don’t have a Detroit-style pizza competitor in the area. 

And everything we do that are sides and things like that are straight off of the Francesca menu. In other words, the businesses feed off each other, and yet they are unique things. When people order for pickup and come in and realize they’re at Francesca’s, they might be a little confused, but guess what? We explain it to them, and maybe they grab a Francesa’s menu on their way out.

PMQ: So it sounds like you work with third-party delivery for this. Is that built into the margins? 

Reina: So, I’m old school in many ways. For Francesca, we have our own delivery team. We don’t do third party. I’m proud to say this: my team is the BEST, man. We had seven employees on day one, back 16 years ago. Five of them still work for me. Adam is somebody who worked for me—I used to joke that he was a punk little kid when I met him, but I knew that he cared and had a big heart—and now he co-owns the stores with me. We treat staff like family.

Sorry, what was the question? (laughs).

PMQ: We were talking about third-party delivery…

Reina: Oh, right! So we decided to do DoorDash for SQUARED. We felt like we already had our team doing plenty of delivery, and we didn’t want to overwhelm them. But what we started to find was that, OK, yes, DoorDash, I think, takes somewhere between 18% and 20% of the cut, right? But think about this: You don’t have new rent. You don’t have additional staff costs. You really don’t even have any of the initial marketing investment you’d need to do with a new concept. 

So when we started this thing, we figured out prices would have to be pretty high. But that’s not even how it worked out. We could keep prices pretty much in line with what we do on the Francesca side, and everybody wins.

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