Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By LESLIE PATTON/Bloomberg News
CICERO, Ill. — Pesos for pizza? In the United States? Yep, and that's just a part of Pizza Patron's efforts to bring in more Hispanics.
Pizza Patron owner Antonio Swad makes no apology for the eatery’s tactics to draw Hispanic diners, who make up about 65 percent of its customers. Swad founded Pizza Patron – Patron roughly translates to "boss" – in 1986 in Dallas. Now the chain is expanding from the Southwest to the Midwest.
Noah Berger/Bloomberg News
While Pizza Patron certainly isn't the first restaurant chain to target Latinos, it may well be the most extreme. Owner and founder Antonio Swad is unapologetic about the eatery's tactics to draw diners – pay in pesos and get your change in dollars, order in Spanish and get a free pizza – and the chain requires most of its employees to speak both English and Spanish.
"We're not interested in being a broad brand," Swad, wearing jeans and a black Pizza Patron T-shirt, said during an interview at his soon-to-be-opened store in Cicero, about eight miles southwest of downtown Chicago. While some of the closely held company's recent promotions have upset "a lot" of people, Swad said that's fine because "they're not our core customer."
The 101-store chain, based in Dallas with almost all locations in the Southwest U.S., will open its first Midwest eatery in Cicero, where 87 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to data from the Census Bureau. Swad is targeting 30 shops in the Chicago area and said the brand can have 1,000 U.S. locations in the long term.
OTHER CHAINS EYE 'GROWING MARKET'
What Swad stumbled upon by accident 26 years ago in Dallas' Pleasant Grove neighborhood is the same thing that other restaurant chains have recently zeroed in on as the U.S. economy struggles to recover: Hispanics are an increasingly important group politically and powerful drivers of consumer spending.
The buying power of that demographic, the largest minority segment in the U.S. with about 52 million people, is projected to jump by 50 percent to $1.5 trillion by 2015 from $1 trillion in 2010, according to a Nielsen Co. report from March. While McDonald's has long been one of the only chains to successfully market to Latino consumers – Nielsen says the company spent about $131.2 million on Spanish-language marketing last year – others, including Denny's and Wendy's, are revving up Hispanic advertising.
"There's a lot of folks who are sort of waking up," Cristina Vilella, director of marketing at McDonald's USA, said in an interview. "The ethnic consumer, and Hispanics specifically, has influenced the culture in ways that have changed what we listen to, what we eat and has made things more mainstream."
McDonald's recent Latino-focused ads for mango pineapple smoothies, which show a woman sipping a drink and being transported back to her childhood, "really tapped into sort of latent emotion of growing up with these fruits," Vilella said. The ads are shown in both English and Spanish.
Denny's, which has more than 1,500 U.S. units, has recently created ads to appeal to Hispanics, who make up more than one-fifth of its customers.
In May, the Spartanburg, S.C.- based company introduced a national TV commercial and online video advertising $4 chicken wraps – the spot shows a Hispanic father at Denny's confusing his children's request for a chicken wrap with a rap. He proceeds to deliver a rap song about chicken in Spanish.
Denny's plans to spend a larger percent of its total media budget on ads targeting Latinos in 2013, Chief Marketing Officer Frances Allen said in an interview.
The Hispanic demographic is "a very big focus for us," Allen said.
"This is a very value-oriented customer," she said. "They are generally parents with two or more children in their households. They value eating out as a family."
Wendy's, which has a Latino ad campaign called Sabor de Verdad, which translates as "real taste," also is stepping up.
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