Why Changing with the Times Works

Posted by: Natalie Batkis, Bothwell Cheese Blogger

You can’t hear the name Pizza Hotline without humming the “222-2222” jingle. Pizza Hotline has been a fixture in the Winnipeg pizza scene for decades and, as with all successful companies, evolving their business model over the years has proven to be a winning recipe.

At 21 years of age, Jerry Cianflone had just graduated from Red River College’s business program and realized he needed to put his new skills in action. Taking a total leap of faith, Cianflone and his girlfriend Theresa (now his wife) chose to start a pizza business with absolutely no restaurant experience on their resumes.

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“I had to do something and it looked good so away we went,” Cianflone says. “When you’re young and foolish you do crazy things,” he laughs.

Pizza Hotline’s first store opened on St. Anne’s Road in 1987 and eventually a second location opened on Corydon Avenue. In the early 90s, Cianflone realized that there was an opportunity to start franchising their business and that’s when their first franchisee opened a location in Transcona.

Today, the chain has 24 locations in Canada including Winnipeg, Steinbach, Winkler, Brandon, Stonewall, Portage La Prairie and Calgary. There have been predominantly two business models: Pizza Hotline – a pick up and delivery restaurant, and Café 22 which is a full dining and lounge experience. But as the market continues to change, Pizza Hotline has had to carefully follow trends and adapt.

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“Over the years, we started off having one style of pizza crust. Eventually we added a thin crust, a gluten-free crust and the 100% whole wheat thin and thick crusts,” Cianflone explains. “As we’ve grown, and people’s tastes have changed, we’ve continued to evolve and come up with excellent crusts that serve our customers’ needs.”

And that’s where their newest restaurant model comes in. Pizza Hotline Stone Fired Pizzeria is the newest dimension for this expanding company. This type of dining is called “fast casual”. People walk up to the counter, order their pizza, which is cooked in 120 seconds, and then sit down to eat. There are servers available to wait on you if you need a beverage or if you would like to order something else. It’s even fully-licensed so you can enjoy a glass of wine with your meal.

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According to Cianflone, the secret to amazing stone fired pizzas is in the crust.

“The latest trend is the Napolitan style pizza – the Italian style crust developed in Naples, Italy. We had to change that crust from the ground up: different flour, different recipe, different everything,” he says. “I decided that there was an opportunity to serve our customers even better by introducing this new style of pizza crust and along with it a more fast casual pizzeria concept.“

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Currently, the only Pizza Hotline Stone Fired Pizzeria is located in Winnipeg Square, but 3 others are set to open in the coming months in Stonewall, and in Winnipeg at 6640 Roblin Boulevard and 998 Keewatin Street.

And of course Pizza Hotline isn’t just about pizza! They have a wide variety of pastas, salads, sandwiches, wings and more. Cianflone accredits his tasty food to using the most local and quality ingredients possible.

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Winnipeg Square – Pizza Hotline Stone Fired Pizzeria

“I believe in supporting our local community. You establish a relationship, you get to know the people – it’s about supporting local and supporting people you know,” he says.

Pizza Hotline has had a long-standing relationship with Bothwell Cheese and use Bothwell Mozzarella in many of their recipes.

“Relationships with suppliers are important but that only works well when the quality of the product is there to back it up,” he says. “Our customers enjoy the taste of the cheese and that’s number one.”

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As for the future of Pizza Hotline – it’s all about following their instincts.

“We’re going to continue what we’re doing – it’s working for us,” Cianflone says. “We look for opportunities where we find the right franchisee and we’re willing to grow if we find the right people.”

For more information about Pizza Hotline, checkout their website www.pizzahotline.ca.