10/09/2012 10:15 am ET

Sbarro Revamp: Pizza Chain Looks To Panera And Qdoba For Inspiration

Over the last few decades, Sbarro has become known as the pizza company of choice for mall and airports. But, that may soon change as it eases into a revamp, hoping to emulate fast-casual eateries the likes of Panera and Qdoba.

Sbarro will once again begin making tomato sauce fresh and shredding cheese in each restaurant, eschewing prepackaged ingredients. The chain is also introducing open-flame ovens so customers can see their slices cooking or reheating, and it plans to open stores outside of its normal real estate, on street fronts. Four-fifths of Sbarro's current locations are in malls and airport food courts.

The New York Times spoke with Darren Tristano, executive vice president of industry consulting firm Technomic, who noted that several companies are attempting to cross over into fast-casual territory, and it makes sense especially for Sbarro:

“Sbarro fits into the quick service category because of its price point and service format, where nothing is made to order,” Mr. Tristano said. “In malls and food courts, they’ve struggled during the recession, and in their stores in urban and suburban locations, they’re really up against much larger chains in the delivery space.”

Sbarro's plans to re-imagine the chain surfaced in April, when new chief executive Jim Greco, then just weeks into his new role, began talking change. He told Nation’s Restaurant News in April that we was helping to implement a 100-day strategy that included the launch of 10 test units in June, which featured re-jiggered pizzas and made-to-order pasta dishes.

In June, Greco told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the new pizza recipe is "closer to our original recipe created 50 years ago" and "creates a more authentic flavor and product."

All this comes in the shadow of Sbarro's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing late last year. Greco was brought on board afterward.

It's not just Sbarro that's interested in revamps these days. Earlier this month, Olive Garden announced it would change its famous tagline, "When You're Here, You're Family," its menu and overall ad campaign in an effort to boost sales.

Also this month, Taco Bell gave more details on its planned redesign to coincide with its 50th anniversary. HuffPost reported that the fast food chain's facelift is, in part, an attempt to compete with younger rival Chipotle.



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