Can a pizzeria make a business out of slices? Yes, and they’re even in the name for Chicago-based Slice Factory.
The brand got its start when Dom DiDiana’s parents opened a pizzeria in Berwyn, Illinois, in 1998. It was the typical American dream — an Italian emigrates from Italy and starts a pizza restaurant. By 2013, they had three Chicago-area pizzerias. DiDiana took over as founder and president and rebranded the business into a concept. And thus, Slice Factory was born.
By 2017, the counter-service brand had opened several pizzerias and franchising began. Today, Slice Factory serves up slices and whole pies at 13 locations. Eight are corporate and five are franchised.
“In 2013 when we rebranded, we took a mom-and-pop family business and turned it into an actual concept. We reduced the menu, we tried to make it as efficient as possible (and) as consistent as possible because we were noticing with the larger menus it was just hard to keep consistency across all stores,” DiDiana said in a phone interview. “As we grew we kind of learned what worked and what didn’t work.”
In 2019, the brand opened its first “Slice-Thru” at the Berwyn location — pizza by the slice through a drive-thru in under three minutes. All new locations are now built with these Slice-Thrus.
“That’s what really differentiates us and that’s pretty much our competitive advantage to other pizzerias,” DiDiana added. “It’s so quick. It’s so convenient. … It’s really beneficial for our customers.”
The Slice-Thrus make up 50% of sales, while carryout is and dine-in is 30% and delivery accounts for the remaining 20%.
The brand makes its own dough, cuts its vegetables and shredded cheeses daily in-house and uses direct manufacturers who make their other ingredients to spec and distribute it to stores.
DiDiana said the pizza is hand tossed and is a hybrid between New York and Chicago pizza — tavern-style, not deep-dish. It has to stand up well when cut, as jumbo slices are carved from a 28-inch pizza. “We can’t go too thin, like a tavern, because it just wouldn’t hold,” DiDiana said, “and we can’t go too hydrated like a New York because it would be way too floppy. It has to have hold when you hold the slice because it’s so big.”
Jumbo slices are Slice Factory’s signature item. Pizza, by the slice and whole pies, comprise 70% of sales.
Surprisingly, it isn’t pepperoni that is the brand’s top seller. Instead, it’s a Meat Lovers with bacon, pepperoni and sausage that sells the most, followed by sausage, pepperoni and cheese.
Still, guests can try the Tropical BBQ Chicken, which has chicken, red onions, fresh pineapple and cilantro with a habanero mango sauce, and the Cheesy Beef, traditional sliced Italian beef with hot giardiniera.
Wings are available in traditional and boneless, and cauliflower bites and mac and cheese bites can also be purchased.
Craft beverages like the watermelon lemonade, the strawberry iced team, the mint lemonade and the hibiscus ice tea set the pizzeria apart as well.
Slice Factory uses Baker’s Pride deck ovens, but three newer locations are using Hot Rocks stone conveyor pizza ovens which allowed the brand’s pizzas to still bake on stones but don’t require the manpower that deck ovens use. DiDiana said Slice Factory will utilize the Hot Rocks ovens going forward.
While supply chain issues plagued Slice Factory in the past, DiDiana said in the last two months lead times are catching up.
Like many in the industry, hiring and retention have remained problematic for the brand. DiDiana and his team brought on a director of human resources to help with the recruiting and maintaining of talent.
“We’ve been doing really, really well with it,” DiDiana said. “I think most small businesses struggle with (hiring and retention). They just don’t have the resources to dedicate a specific person to this, and then (also) having a good onboarding process.”
Slice Factory uses a three-step approach to hiring. First, a phone or Zoom interview is conducted. Next, there’s an in-person interview at corporate headquarters with the director of HR and DiDiana, if he’s available. Finally, a candidate will then meet with the general manager of the store in which he or she will report. A trial run will then be conducted.
“It’s just a really good way to vet to see if this candidate really wants the job (and) if they can show up on time,” DiDiana said, adding that there’s an assessment during the second round of interviews for the candidate to take.
Some older Slice Factory operations have their own delivery drivers, but most outsource to third party companies.
The brand does direct mail and e-mail marketing as well as some text message marketing to its current marketing database.
Social media is used two ways: first, Slice Factory uses it to build its database and two, TikTok and Instagram have been successful for the company. “We’ve had quite a few viral videos on TikTok and Instagram,” DiDiana said. “TikTok and Instagram are more for brand awareness, and then we do a lot of retargeting in-house” marketing.
Also helping get the brand’s name out is its Pizza With Purpose program. BOGOs for fundraisers and givebacks help Slice Factory grow within its communities. DiDiana said that program is important for two reasons: people from the schools want to support their schools, and Slice Factory wants to support the community, so it’s a win-win for both parties. It also allows customers to try Slice Factory who normally wouldn’t because they might be loyal to another pizza brand.
The brand just launched its franchise development campaign and it has a dedicated staff member who deals with franchise development. There are five units planned for 2023.
“Right now, we’re selling franchises in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri, “DiDiana said. “That’s our main focus. We’re really focusing on the Midwest right now.”
DiDiana added that it is important to be a car drive away, as close proximity is imperative to initial success as the brand grows outside Illinois.
Suburbs with 70,000 to 80,000 people, good day and evening traffic, schools and organizations nearby are the perfect locations for Slice Factory units. Real estate with drive-thru capabilities is imperative.
The immediate goal is to get to 65 units within five years by growing throughout the Midwest.
“Our ultimate plan is to be a national brand,” DiDiana said.