Got to wondering about c-mart and gas station pizzas/foods after writing about a couple of them here, Hunts Brothers and Bellarico NY Style. I’m only talking about small licensed operations, not co-branded c-stores that have full-size food franchise operations within, like Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Dominos, and so on.
I’m not really sure who was the pioneer in this area, but the concept seems to be fairly wide-spread across the country now, with even 7-Eleven announcing they will jump into the fray with their own house brand pizza and wings, available 24 hours.
A cluster of these companies is centered in the Upper Midwest, so I suspect at least one company was spawned by former execs from another, of a family split. Since the Upper Midwest is so dominant in the frozen pizza manufacturing business (Freschetta, Tony’s, Red Baron, Totinos, DiGiorno,Tombstone, Jack’s….and those are just the companies I know of in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so maybe former execs from some of those companies started these concepts. No matter.
None of these products are spectacular, but they will, IMHO, satisfy your craving for pizza in a hurry; they are certainly the same quality and taste as say, Dominos, and are mostly better than frozen pizza. This is a fast growing market, already over $500 million a year, and that’s only 2% of the total pizza market in the U.S. According to Pizzamarketplace, c-store pizza operations gross an astonishing $750 per square foot.
So, in no particular order:
Hot Stuff Foods, around for “more than 20 years”, offers pizza, subs, sandwiches, wraps under brand names including Hot Stuff, Smash Hits, and Lettieri’s. Their website claims the pizza product is represented in 1,000 c-stores. Up and coming brands from Hot Stuff include “Eddie Peppers” (Mexican), “C-Street Bakery” (like Cinnabon), and “Stone Willy Pizza House”, which is targeted more at schools, institutions, and military bases. They are based in Sioux Falls, have over 400 employees, and make their own products in two USDA plants.
Piccadilly Circus Pizza, Milford, Iowa, located in over 1400 c-stores, offers a full menu in addition to pizza: burgers, breakfast sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, and subs. Piccadilly offers a variety of sizes of operations to c-store, from a simple kiosk to a full-line café.
Casey’s General Stores, which I wrote about last week, has their HQ in Ankeny, Iowa, and currently has about 1500 stores. Casey’s pizza products are only available in their own stores, to my knowledge, they don’t license pizza only operations to other operators. They target markets of less than 5,000 people for their stand-alone stores. They’ve recently (2014) announced a plan to open stand-alone pizzerias. Here’s the Casey’s pizza menu. Locator.
Noble Roman’s was founded as a traditional stand-alone pizzeria, and once had 150 stores, but that number has shrunk to about 30 and they are concentrating on the c-store business, with 700 stores online at present. They are also developing a concept called “Café to Go” in which “a customer takes a pre-topped pizza out of a cooler that’s part of the whole kiosk, and then puts it into a chute that actually delivers the pizza down to a conveyor oven. It’s then comes out another chute completely cooked.”The company also operates “Tuscano’s Italian Style Subs”, and the emphasis at both NR’s outlets is on fresh, quality ingredients; crusts of specially milled flours, 100% real cheese, 100% real meat, no extenders of fillers.
Hunt Brothers Pizza, more than 40 years in operation, more than 6,000 outlets in 26 states, seems to be the 900 pound gorilla in the c-store pizza business. The original outlet was Austin Hunt’s “Austin’s Drive In”, started in Evansville, IN in 1942. 1962 – Pepe’s Pizza was founded by son Don Hunt, selling par baked pizza crusts and toppings out of his Rambler Station Wagon. The company expanded to 30 cities and was successfully run until it was sold in the 80s. All four of Austin’s sons worked for Pepe’s but eventually spun off into operating their own, similar companies. In 1990, the brothers realigned their businesses into Hunts Brothers and developed the concept employed today, “All toppings at no charge.”
Bellarico’s NY Style Pizza, Birmingham, Alabama, is part of City Wholesale, a full line food service distributor peddling (literally) everything from soup to nuts. City Wholesale is in its 3rd generation of family ownership/operation. They have over 1000 outlets. Their food service concepts in addition to pizza include Slush Puppy, and Sub Express. Sub Express sub shops offer 17 varieties of sandwiches that are served hot-baked. Their website tells potential operators pizza profits exceed $1.00 per slice.
I’ve tried most of these, I can’t say that one stands out over the other; they are all adequate to satisfy a craving when you are on the move.
C-Store Pizza Suppliers