Position: Founder and CEO
Company: Rotolo's Pizzeria
What they do: Fast casual Italian dining and catering
Revenue: About $13 million
Next Goal: “Continue what we started.”
The "aha" moment
Mitch Rotolo owned only a few of his namesake pizzerias in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit south Louisiana. He had family in Chalmette and lower Plaquemines Parish, and he knew people who lost their firms to the storm. He realized his small business was vulnerable, too, which helped motivate him to shift into growth mode and diversify into more areas. Rotolo took on a partner, with whom he opened two more restaurants, and started working on franchising documents. “When Hurricane Katrina hit, it was like, 'OK, now is our time,'” he says.
Franchising required a multiyear evolution involving lawyers and consultants. Perhaps the most important moment in the development of his new, more ambitious business happened in 2009, when Rotolo's became the official pizza of the New Orleans Saints and the Superdome. The expensive sponsorship would have been corporate suicide had Rotolo planned to stick with only a handful of locations. But for a former neighborhood pizza place looking to expand the reach of its brand throughout the Gulf Coast, it was a smart investment, Rotolo says. “We knew that we were going to franchise, and when that opportunity presented itself, we said, 'Wow, we need to do this,'” he says.
Hitting the market
Rotolo's corporate office owns and operates 13 of the 22 locations that are now open; the rest are franchises. Rotolo expects to have 30 restaurants open by the end of the year. The company is building the corporate flagship store on Millerville Road that will include a “pizza school” and a conference room for management and franchisee training.
“We didn't develop a concept on paper to develop a franchise brand. I built a restaurant that I wanted to run, and it evolved into something that other people wanted to be a part of.”
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