In an article in the New York Times this morning, Neil Irwin opines that the reason Sbarro is filing bankruptcy for the second time in three years is that declining traffic in malls has affected food court merchant’s ability to pay rent. He points at “Hot Dog on a Stick” bankruptcy as further evidence of the trend.
He further goes on to state that there is basically no draw to Sbarro, that “You eat Sbarro not because you want Sbarro, but because it is the food that is available at the moment you want some food.”
I don’t know whether his assertions are true or not. There is little to compare Sbarro with, as they have 800 locations in malls and airports, and non one else comes close to that number of ‘restaurants’ in those type of locations. One competitor, Villa Fresh, (200 locations) seems to be holding up. Their marketing emphasis is on “fresh”, as in ingredients and prep. As Irwin points out, sauntering up to a Sbarro counter, you’re likely to encounter heat lamp pizza that has been far too long at the altar.
Besides the ‘heat lamp’ problem, my personal experience or disappointment with Sbarro is two-fold; first is, the product isn’t very good, and secondly, it’s not a good value.
One might suppose the “value” part is a reflection of the price they have to charge to cover their operating costs, including high rent. But most malls, especially for such a substantial tenant are willing to renegotiate leases these days.
They tout their fresh ingredients, but maybe not loud enough. Or maybe the thrice baked (oven, heat lamp, oven reheat) negates the freshness. How about evolving to a MOD concept before the upstarts come in the malls and beat Sbarro’s to that concept? A fresh, made to order, custom pie in minutes?
Just a thought. I know if I was in a mall, a pie prepared to my liking on the spot would be worth a premium price.