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Papa Gino's seeks bigger slice of pie

Chain to double stores, expand outside region

Papa Gino's is planning to more than double its restaurants to 335 pizzerias over the next five years and expand for the first time outside its hometown New England market.

The Dedham company is looking to add 135 stores in New England, including about 90 of its first franchised restaurants, and open shops in new regions along the East Coast in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.

"We're taking a giant leap," said Anthony Padulo , Papa Gino's senior vice president of franchise development. "We've been a market leader in the pizza business here, and we want to grow at a faster rate than what we've been doing. The timing is right."

The push comes as other major pizza purveyors, including Little Caesars, have targeted the competitive Boston market for expansion. Papa Gino's, which was started nearly 40 years ago as a single East Boston pizza shop, was ranked as the 21st-largest operator with about $145 million in sales in 2005, according to the most recent figures from trade publication Pizza Today.

Last year, Papa Gino's sales exceeded $160 million, and existing stores have seen a 5 percent sales growth annually over the past five years, Padulo said. Papa Gino's says this makes it a prime time for the company to expand its brand through franchises and take advantage of the growing $35 billion US pizza market.

Ron Paul , president of Technomic Inc., a restaurant consulting firm in Chicago, said the nation's three biggest pizza operators -- Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's -- have been losing market share to independent pizzerias and smaller chains, such as Papa Gino's.

Nationwide, independents have about one-third of the market, but local operators dominate Boston with about 75 percent of the market, according to Papa Gino's.

"Large chains don't do as good a job as local favorites," Paul said. "The smaller chains and independents can focus more on local markets and regional tastes and provide better service."

Jeremy White , editor-in-chief of Pizza Today, said Papa Gino's commands a large chunk of the Boston market and has established itself as the leader of New England pizza chains.

"Other chains that have recently entered the market, such as Little Caesars, won't impact Papa Gino's. Little Caesars is driven by delivery sales," White said. Papa Gino's delivery sales are growing, he added, but so is its sit-down dining business.

Papa Gino's, whose parent company Papa Gino's Holdings Corp. also owns D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches, has already secured the market's first franchise location, in Portland, Maine. Papa Gino's recently unveiled the prototype for company and franchise stores that aims to create more of an authentic, yet contemporary ambience. The prototype features a new logo, larger interior, prominently displayed pizza preparation and baking area, and upgraded booths, tables, and chairs.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

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