Co-Branding To Customers

by Nate Hunter

Villa Enterprises bring a variety of casual and upscale dining options to a table, and most likely a food court, near you.

Villa Enterprises Management operates approximately 350 locations in 39 states and seven countries. The international restaurant chain operator oversees four quick-serve chains, in addition to four full-service restaurant brands.

Even though the company now encompasses a wide variety of food types at different service levels, Morristown, N.J.-based Villa Enterprises was created from humble beginnings. It all began in 1964 when Michele Scotto emigrated from Naples, Italy, with just a few pennies to his name and the American Dream in tow. He opened the company’s first pizzeria, located at 53rd and Broadway in New York City.

After running a successful restaurant, Scotto slowly got involved with the mall business. First he opened in a couple of malls in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Tampa, Fla., then started to grow his portfolio from there. The operator has slowly and strategically expanded ever since.

Villa Enterprises has continued that original pizza concept through Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen, which also offers pasta, stromboli and other Italian-inspired cuisine, with 270 units across the country. Villa Italian Kitchen has a large presence in airports, including locations at both terminals A and C at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J.

The company also operates healthy chains including Green Leaf’s, described as the healthy fast-food alternative through its salads, wraps and grilled panini menu items. Bananas, which sells healthy smoothies and frozen yogurt, is also a healthy option for customers and a great complement to Green Leafs. Villa Enterprises has approximately 60 Green Leaf’s and Bananas in its portfolio, often featuring the two chains side-by-side in mall food courts.

The final quick-serve brand the company manages includes South Philly Steaks & Fries. The chain operates more than 10 units in the U.S. with customers continually coming back for more cheese steak favorites, fresh-cut fries, wings and potato skins.

In addition to the company’s four quick-serve brands, Villa Enterprises has about 12 full-service units operating under three chains — George & Martha’s, Black Horse Tavern & Pub, The Office Beer Bar & Grill and Piattino’s.

Villa Enterprises originally acquired The Office Beer Bar & Grill out of bankruptcy with plans to grow the brand. There are currently seven units concentrated in Central and Northern New Jersey and the Morristown, N.J., location is currently the first to undergo the rebranding to The Office Tavern & Grille.

The QSR brands are concentrated in mall food courts and airports. Approximately 65 percent of the company’s fast/casual chains are mall-based or located in regional shopping centers since that’s how the company began almost 50 years ago.
Since Villa Enterprises is mall based, the biggest task facing the company is getting people into the malls to shop, and ultimately visit its restaurants.

“Obviously the traffic has been hit-and-miss in some of the venues in which we operate,” says Adam Torine, senior vice president of business development for Villa Enterprises Management. “We’re a byproduct of the traffic in the mall, so we have to make sure we’re on top of our game with the traffic that does come in.”

In order to do so, Villa Enterprises went beyond the simple four walls of each of its restaurants to launch its catering division.

“Catering in a mall food court is not what you’d typically expect, but our operations team put together a great program in collaboration with local businesses, hospitals and youth organizations that’s really helped us with some declining traffic,” explains Torine.

The catering program works through a central support catering division that is responsible for marketing the program by supporting all of the units with promotional materials and catering menus. Orders come through a central hotline that are then communicated to the individual stores to put together the orders.

The company’s presence is largest in Florida and Texas, followed by the Northeast since its headquartered in New Jersey. Green Leaf’s and Bananas just opened their second locations in Texas in the Katy Mills outlet shopping center in Katy, Texas.
Torine says, “Ideally, we’d like to have all of our stores in New Jersey and New York because it’d make things a lot easier, but it’s just not practical in the venues we operate in.”

Growing up in the mall business, Villa Enterprises expands wherever there is the greatest opportunity. Torine says the backbone of the company is built upon relationships, so there is constant communication with mall developers in terms of new opportunities for expansion.

Last year, the company opened approximately 35 new locations, both internationally and domestically. For the remainder of 2013, Villa Enterprises will open about 35 to 40 more units and continue that aggressive growth model for years to come.

“We could open zero locations or open 100 and still be in the same position. We’re all about the quality over the quantity for our company,” Torine says.

The company’s future growth will rely heavily on franchising. Of the company’s 350 total stores, approximately half are company-owned and half are franchised units. All of the international stores are franchised.

Villa Enterprises operates in Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, Colombia, Italy and Azerbaijan. The company operates 15 stores in Italy and Torine says if you can be successful selling pizza in Italy, you can be successful anywhere.

Villa Enterprises also recently opened its third fast/casual concept in Egypt in February. A South Philly Steaks & Fries opened at the Mall of Arabia in Cairo. During 2013, Villa Enterprises plans to open five additional locations throughout the country.

In terms of future international growth, Villa is focused on the Middle East and parts of South America. Domestically, the company is focused on building its presence where it already has stores established.

Our target is to continue to grow the existing states where we have businesses,” Torine says. “But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t go anywhere. We’ve proven that with our international presence.”

— Brittany Biddy

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