26 Mar 2010
Antonio D'Alelio believes he has the perfect recipe for a 'game-changing' franchise with Lilly's Gourmet Pasta Express. His goal is to provide fresh, gourmet pasta for carryout and delivery in high traffic locations, particularly near college campuses.
Opened for franchise sales 2007, Lilly's recently opened its first franchised location and has plans for a second in about a month, bringing to total number of stores to four. An additional five stores, part of a multiunit agreement, are under development. D'Alelio targets 50 more units by the end of the year.
D'Alelio sees the budding chain as an opportunity to showcase his mother's fresh, gourmet pasta. His mother, Lilly D'Alelio, is founder and president of Lilly's Gastronomia Italiana Inc., a pasta factory with three locations across the country. The company has more than 25 years providing fresh pasta to hotels and other venues. Each Lilly's express store will feature fresh pasta provided by Lilly's Gastronomia Italiana.
That longevity provides the new concepts with a heritage many start-up lack, a track record D'Alelio is leveraging as he targets more franchisees.
"Lilly's is trying to identify itself as a leader in the industry because of all the experience behind it," he said. "We're not a start-up by any means. Yes, we've only been franchising for two years, but (his family has) been manufacturing pasta — and we're the supplier for the franchise — for 25 to 30 years."
Lilly's menu revolves around a three-step ordering process. Customers select their fresh pasta then their sauce. Next, they can choose from a number of toppings. Most meals can be prepared in under three minutes and average around $10 per person. The average check is slightly higher, especially if customers utilizing online ordering.
Other menu items include sub sandwiches for lunch and 'homemade' cannoli and tiramisu for dessert.
While the price point and food quality could place the concept as fast casual, D'Alelio insists it is a QSR model.
"If I could compare Lilly's right now, it would be like a Domino's business plan (with its focus on carryout and delivery) but with a quality build out and a quality meal," he said. "Not to knock Domino's, but we just have a really high quality product. And we've been able to get it down to the right price point where we've separated ourselves from the fine dining and casual dining and brought it to quick serve."
Cost-effective store design
Partnering with Store in a Box Inc., which specializes in store buildouts, Lilly's Gourmet Pasta is aiming at the quick-service segment in order to keep start up and operating costs down. Stores are under 1,000 square feet and have only a couple of tables. In the two company-owned stores, about 75 percent of sales are delivery meals.
A pasta boutique merchandiser provides a 20 percent mix. The case features pasta and meals that customers can cook for themselves at home.
Store in a Box is the approved vendor for the build out, providing services including the approved store design, construction management, mill work and graphics. Each store will feature the same approved design and graphics.
Store in a Box CEO Bruce said his company's partnership with Lilly's Gourmet Pasta Express is unusual because the restaurant concept is so new. Typically, the company works only with more proven brands, those with three to five years of experience and 10 to 25 locations open.
Olans said he was intrigued first because D'Alelio is a fellow native Bostonian, but that only started the conversation. It was the product itself that sold him — "and I've been to too many restaurants that did not."
"I told Antonio, 'After tasting this product, you have a Rolls Royce product in a Chevrolet store,'" Olans said.
Store in a Box worked with D'Alelio to create a look that would showcase the family's history in the pasta business. The result is a store with a feel "like walking into the kitchen of an Italian home" with graphics on the walls about Lilly D'Alelio, the history of the concept and the product, Olans said.
With a store that suits the quality of the product, D'Alelio says he has a recession-proof concept. Customers enjoy eating fine-dining quality pasta at value prices through a convenience model. Operators will be like the $180,000 to $250,000 start up cost and the ability to keep labor and overhead costs down.
D'Alelio said he thinks the concept will catch on fast and do for pasta what other industry leaders have done for subs and pizza.
"I have a lot of pioneers I look up to," he said. "Fred DeLuca did it with subs, Ray Kroc did it with burgers, Colonel Sanders did it with chicken, Tom Monaghan and John Schnatter did with it with pizza. Now Antonio and Lilly are going to do it with pasta."