Godfather’s Pizza Incorporated: A Slice of Pizza History

Godfather’s Pizza Incorporated, the fourth-largest pizza chain in the United States, has been serving up delicious pizzas since its founding in 1973. With over 500 corporate and franchised restaurants in 40 states, Godfather’s quickly established itself as a formidable player in the pizza industry.

The 1970s: A Heritage of Flavor

Originating in Omaha, Nebraska, Godfather’s Pizza experienced rapid growth under the ownership of Diversified Foods Inc. In 1973, Pillsbury Company, a major food corporation, acquired Godfather’s and operated it as a subsidiary. Pillsbury, with its vast portfolio of restaurants, saw the potential in Godfather’s unique thick crust pizzas with multiple toppings. From 1977 to 1979, Godfather’s was the fastest-growing food chain in the country.

However, in the following years, intense competition and subpar locations led to declining sales and profits. In 1986, Pillsbury appointed Herman Cain as the new president of Godfather’s. Cain, renowned for his successful turnaround of Burger King restaurants, took on the challenge of revitalizing Godfather’s. He settled lawsuits, closed unprofitable units, introduced home-delivery service, and created innovative products like bacon-cheese-burger pizzas. Under his leadership, Godfather’s turned a profit for the first time in years.

A Change in Direction

In 1988, Pillsbury announced plans to sell or close some of its restaurants, including Godfather’s, due to declining profits and increasing competition. Encouraged by Pillsbury, a group of senior managers, led by Cain and Executive Vice-President Ronald B. Gartlan, organized a leveraged buyout of Godfather’s. This move allowed the company to regain control and focus on improving its position in the pizza market.

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Rather than aiming for the most locations like its competitors, Godfather’s concentrated on establishing a strong presence in select regional markets. By remodeling stores and expanding in areas like Seattle, Omaha, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City, Godfather’s emphasized quality over quantity. The company maintained a core of company-owned stores, ensuring consistency in food and service.

Delivering Convenience in the 1980s

Recognizing the growing popularity of home pizza delivery, Godfather’s introduced a one-number pizza delivery system in the mid-1980s. This convenient service, initially tested in Seattle, quickly expanded to other locations. The company also revamped its menu, introducing specialty pizzas like apple and cherry dessert pizzas topped with fruit fillings. To cater to customers visiting their strip mall locations, Godfather’s reintroduced salad bars in the form of all-you-can-eat luncheon buffets.

To increase brand awareness, Godfather’s launched a new media campaign featuring “Spooner Wiggins, Godfather of the Airwaves.” These humorous TV spots, along with partnerships with schools and innovative pizza-related games, helped Godfather’s capture the attention of consumers and increase its market share.

Testing New Concepts

In the early 1990s, Godfather’s ventured into the supermarket industry, recognizing the importance of convenience and quality to consumers. The company partnered with supermarkets to introduce the “Supreme Court,” a restaurant-within-supermarket concept. However, not all locations proved successful, and Godfather’s learned valuable lessons from the experience. They adjusted their menus and ultimately established their own program called the Fresh-To-Go Shoppe, offering fresh-baked and topped pizzas for self-service.

An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse

Herman Cain, known for his leadership at Godfather’s, went on to become the president of the National Restaurant Association and an influential figure in the food industry. During his tenure, Cain spearheaded reform efforts, advocated for the industry, and campaigned for Republican candidates. His dedication to the industry earned him recognition and positions of influence, both in the restaurant industry and beyond.

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Today, Godfather’s Pizza continues to provide consistently good food and great service, staying true to its mission. With its rich history and commitment to quality, Godfather’s remains a beloved pizza brand across the United States.

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