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Rotolo’s pizzeria, craft brand offers various styles of pizza | 1-on-1 with Pizza Leadership


Rotolo’s operates Rotolo’s Pizzeria and Rotolo’s Craft + Crust, two brands expanding into new states.

Can one pizza brand capture multiple markets? Yes, if it’s Rotolo’s. Founded by CEO Mitch Rotolo in 1996 near the campus of Louisiana State University, Rotolo’s consists of two brands: the classic Rotolo’s Pizzeria and the newer model, Rotolo’s Crust + Craft. The brands have 31 locations of which three are corporate units in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where the home office is located and the rest are franchised. Rotolo’s can be found in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Colorado.

Brad Mire, Rotolo’s president

Rotolo had worked in a few pizza restaurants before starting his own, and Rotolo’s President Brad Mire said he found a location that had a mixer in a bar-heavy area of town. Pizza and beer make a great pairing, and the first unit, at the gates of LSU, has the perfect location.

Rotolo’s Pizzeria is the company’s legacy brand, which features a smaller footprint with conveyor ovens in small towns in Louisiana. Rotolo’s Craft + Crust uses deck ovens and “it was a way to elevate our pizza and a way to do something a bit more ‘craft,'” Mire said, “and improve on what Rotolo’s has always done — make it better and elevated.” There’s also an enhanced cocktail menu and at least 32 beers on tap in an upscale craft bar setting. The first Rotolo’s Craft + Crust opened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2017.

The menu

On the pizzeria side, The Krewe pizza is a top seller and features marinara, mozzarella, pepperoni, bacon, cheddar, feta and parmesan.

The Chalmette breadsticks are also a favorite. Made with a thin crust, the cheese sticks are topped with hot sauce, garlic butter, feta, cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan and are served with marinara for dipping.

At the Craft + Crust, the brand offers both a New York crust as well as a Chicago deep-dish pizza. “Not too many people outside of Chicago try and stay true to it, but we do put some time and energy into that pizza and it is a pretty good seller for us,” Mire said.

Pepperoni and The Big Apple, which features house-made fresh crushed tomato sauce, pulled mozzarella, pepperoni, sliced Italian sausage, whipped ricotta, oregano, red pepper and olive oil, are big movers at the Craft + Crust, as well as the Uncle Tony with house-made fresh crushed tomato sauce, pulled mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, burrata, oregano, olive oil and a balsamic reduction.

Wednesdays are known for its specialty calzones, a move the brand has been doing since its inception in ’96. The calzone is priced at $7.99. “We swing a lot of calzones in all our locations on that day,” Mire added. “It’s just something that’s kind of become synonymous with the brand.”

Dough is made in-house from a starter several times a day at each restaurant. The craft sauce on the Rotolo’s Craft + Crust side is made on-site. The traditional pasta sauces, pizzas sauces and salad dressings are made at a commissary, which helps the brands maintain continuity.

Rotolo’s Craft + Crust has also switched its new locations to Rotoflex ovens which uses spinning decks “and that has made a world of difference as far as the consistency goes for our Craft + Crust side,” Mire added. Training on those ovens proves easier than on a traditional deck oven and they give an even bake all around. The Rotoflex ovens even gave Rotolo’s execs an easier way to design the kitchens with multiple doors to remove the pizzas.

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Operations

On the tech side, the brand uses the Jolt platform to push out training documents from its home office for LTOs like a King Cake calzone and a heart-shaped pizza for Valentine’s Day last month.

The training library is digital, making it easily accessible for the brand as it grows beyond Louisiana.

Technology has been a big focus for Rotolo’s executive team. They developed an app in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and came out much stronger because of that, Mire said. The brand is doing a lot on the retargeting side of guest acquisitions as well. “And that’s kind of one of those challenges from the service side and from the marketing side that we’re trying to hone in on,” he added.

Operationally, trying to find and retain the right people remains a challenge. “We’re all in the same battle when it comes to that,” Mire said. “But we’re trying to make Rotolo’s a place where people want to work. When they come to work, it’s about making it something they want to continue to do. Not everyone wants to make pizza for a living, but we try to make it as enjoyable as we can at every store that we open and the stores that we continue to operate every day.”

Retention is critical, and Rotolo’s has partnered with the Same Day Pay app to give staff access to their wages faster without having to wait for the traditional two-week payroll. That also came about in the middle of the pandemic.

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Growth

The brand opened three stores in 2022 and it has seen double-digit growth year over year from 2019 to 2022 (excluding 2020 during the onslaught of the pandemic). Rotolo’s Craft + Crust has a higher ceiling and therefore a higher check average. “The RCC model has continued to grow,” Mire said. “All of those restaurants continue to see tremendous growth year after year.”

Mire attributes that growth in part to a first-of-it-kind pizza setting in the markets it enters. When people think of pizza, they automatically consider the big chains, whereas Rotolo’s Craft + Crust offers a full dining experience but with pizza. “It’s almost a sports bar-ish type feel to Craft + Crust, but not many people are doing that with pizza,” Mire added. “We’re also trying to stay true to being from Louisiana which … continues to be a sector of people’s menus that they see a lot of success with: that Creole cooking and trying to get some Louisiana flare here and there. We try to stay true to that.”

That includes dishes like étouffée and red beans and rice alongside pizza.

Over the next 18 months, the brand expects to open five to six new restaurants.

“We’re actively pursuing franchisees and locations,” Mire said. The brand will be developing units in South Carolina and Mississippi, another unit in Tennessee and growth in Texas and Colorado by 2024.

“Franchisees are everything. They make it happen every day. We own three of these restaurants and there’s 31 of them,” Mire said. That shows how important they are. We are very, very blessed and fortunate that we have a really great group of franchisees.

“They care immensely about Rotolo’s, they are constantly trying to do the best, hope for the best for the brand, and that’s really all you can ask for.”

Mandy Wolf Detwiler is the managing editor at Networld Media Group and the site editor for PizzaMarketplace.com and QSRweb.com. She has more than 20 years’ experience covering food, people and places.
 
An award-winning print journalist, Mandy brings more than 20 years’ experience to Networld Media Group. She has spent nearly two decades covering the pizza industry, from independent pizzerias to multi-unit chains and every size business in between. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry. She has an insatiable appetite for learning, and can tell you where to find the best slices in the country after spending 15 years traveling and eating pizza for a living. 


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