After nearly three decades and billions (that’s right: billions) of free breadsticks, the chain known for real Italian, real fast has been through a lot. But even if you know your way around the baked ziti or the Primo Submarino, we’re willing to bet there are a few things you don’t know about Fazoli’s.
1. IT STARTED IN THAT HOTBED FOR ITALIAN CUISINE: KENTUCKY.
Jerrico Inc., a Lexington-based restaurant company that also at the time owned Long John Silver's, opened the first Fazoli’s in Ashland, Kentucky in 1988. A year later, it opened four more in nearby Lexington, and soon after expanded to Orlando. Today, there are 220 Fazoli’s restaurants across the U.S.
2. IS IT FAST FOOD OR FAST CASUAL? MAYBE BOTH?
The brass at Fazoli’s refers to the restaurant as fast casual, putting it in the same company as Chipotle and Panera. But they concede that offering “real Italian, real fast” means they share more customers with the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King. “Our research shows us that when they want to go some place nicer than McDonald’s or Burger King, they’ll go to Fazoli’s,” Jon Quinn, the company’s VP of marketing, told the trade publication Fast Casual.
3. THEIR MENU NEEDED SOME WORK.
After years of lackluster sales, Fazoli’s decided it needed to turn things around. And that meant taking a good hard look at its menu, which tended to focus on fast over flavor. Or, to put it more bluntly, “Customers were leaving because the food quality was terrible,” an Ohio franchisee told Columbus Business First. So Fazoli’s hired a restaurant consulting firm, and last year introduced 20 new menu items, including pasta dishes, new sandwiches and salads, and a build-your-own pizza.
4. THEY’RE ALSO UPDATING THEIR STORE DESIGN.
With the menu upgrade comes a fresh new look for Fazoli’s locations. The new restaurant prototype includes LED lighting, green awnings, and a more prominent logo. There’ll also be a 35-foot-tall tower rising above it all like a beacon for unlimited breadsticks.
5. LOCATIONS GO THROUGH HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF BREADSTICKS PER YEAR.
People are serious about those unlimited breadsticks. One manager in Michigan estimates he goes through more than 600,000 a year, or 1000 per shift. The company, meanwhile, estimates its restaurants make more than 100 million breadsticks every year. Do the math over three decades, and we’re talking about billions of breadsticks.
6. THEY’VE SPED UP DRIVE-THRU SERVICE.
The average time spent in the drive-thru line is going up across the country. But Fazoli’s is trying to bring down its times. An internal program called “Drive Under Five” aims to get orders filled in under five minutes by re-training employees, improving sign boards and putting food in more efficient packaging.
7. MANAGERS WILL REFILL YOUR DRINK.
As yet another part of its recent revamp, Fazoli’s decided to bring managers out from behind the counter. Their new role as “guest ambassadors” has them mingling with customers, re-filling drinks and other small tasks. Topic for conversation: What do they do with all the leftover breadsticks?
8. THEY TRIED OPENING AN ITALIAN CHIPOTLE.
Back in 2014, Fazoli’s tried its hand at a different Italian restaurant concept—one in which customers filled wrap-like “piadas” with customizable ingredients like steak, chicken, and vegetables. Sound familiar? The “Italian Chipotle,” as many customers referred to it (official name: Venti-Tre), debuted in Baltimore. Within a year, it was closed.
9. SENIOR CITIZENS GET THE VIP TREATMENT.
Lots of restaurants offer a senior citizens discount. Fazoli’s has its own club. Created for what it calls “experienced eaters,” Fazoli’s Club 62 gives out special meal deals, $1 drinks, and legitimate bragging rights against children and grandchildren. There’s an official card, of course. The company also recently gave away free drinks to anyone playing bridge in its restaurants.
10. SOME FANS TRAVELED 400 MILES FOR THE BREADSTICKS.
Unlimited breadsticks are nice, but worth a three-hour drive each way? Four friends from Orlando certainly thought so. After their local Fazoli’s closed down, they drove up to the nearest location in Georgia. The restaurant plied them with all the breadsticks they could handle, and even picked up the tab.
11. THEY WANT COUPLES TO GET ENGAGED IN THEIR RESTAURANTS.
For a few years there, Fazoli’s offered a sweetheart of a deal: Free spaghetti for a year to any couple who got engaged inside their restaurants on Valentine’s Day. Sounds romantic, no? Sadly, the company hasn’t renewed the offer since 2014.