What’s better than pizza and ice cream?
Well, these days Boston Pizza and Dairy Queen are hoping you’ll see them as a whole lot more than just places for pepperoni pies and Peanut Buster Parfaits, which is why they’ll be popping up in spots you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see them.
Canadian restaurant chain Boston Pizza, which has 383 locations across the country, is best known in the ’burbs near movie theatres and malls, but it’s planning a big expansion in urban centres, starting with the grand opening Friday of its Toronto flagship on Front and John Sts. right across from Rogers Centre.
The 11,000-square-foot location has just completed a $2 million three-month renovation, including a large wrap-around patio, a separate take-out entrance, funky lighting, Toronto-themed wall art and brightly-coloured booths with charging stations to give it a more contemporary vibe, said Alan Howie, the chain’s executive vice-president, operations and development.
“We wanted to signify we are ready for urban growth. It’s a big opportunity for us,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Boston Pizza plans to grow to 500 restaurants over the next few years with a focus on city centres including Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton, where the first location opened in 1964.
They are also aiming for non-traditional locations including airports and hotels (they just launched one at the Edmonton airport.)
“In Toronto we believe we have room for another 10 or 12 restaurants in the next four or five years,” said Howie, including Bloor West Village, the Annex, Leslieville and one opening soon at Yonge and Gerrard Sts. (There are currently four in The Six.)
The unusually-named chain — it’s not from Boston and the majority of its food sales are not pizza — has successfully maintained an odd hybrid of being both a sports bar and a family restaurant. The updated design will appear in new locations and eventually throughout the chain.
Robert Carter, executive director of food service at market research firm NPD Group, says it’s a smart move for the full-service restaurant to go where the growth is – namely city centres plugged with millennials and condo dwellers — particularly since that sector of the industry is on the decline.
“Brand evolution has to happen. Everyone is getting more upscale, even McDonald’s,” he said.
Meanwhile Dairy Queen’s new concept fast food restaurants will more than double in the GTA – pretty much everywhere but Toronto – from 46 to more than 100 in the next five years, said Chris Falle, director of development at Dairy Queen Canada.
(Dairy Queen is a privately-held company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.)
The new DQ Grill & Chill restaurants – stand-alone restaurants with drive-thrus that are much bigger than its typical ice cream and Orange Julius spots – offer the famous Blizzards and cool treats the 77-year-old chain is known for alongside a bigger hot food menu, from Brazier burgers and chicken burgers to artisan-style sandwiches and snack melts. Ordering is done up front at separate Grill and Chill sections and delivered to your table.
“They’re re-positioning the brand to go beyond an ice cream shop,” said Carter, noting there’s still room for competition in Canada’s $8-billion burger market.
He says most fast food joints started with burgers and added frozen treats to their lineup much later, such as McDonald’s McFlurry and Wendy’s Frosty, and now DQ has wisely chosen to do the same, just in the opposite direction, he said.
“They’re getting good traction with the Grill & Chill concept and it’s helping to drive sales,” Carter said.
In the GTA they will pop up in Aurora, Brampton, Milton, Mississauga, Oakville and Vaughan, to name a few. They will also appear in smaller Ontario towns including Walkerton, Angus, Port Dover, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Stoney Creek.
In Canada, there are 275 DQ Grill & Chills, nearly half of which are in Ontario. Overall Dairy Queen has 679 locations across the country.