Monday, October 10, 2016

Time For Uncle Maddio's to Say Uncle?

The recently shuttered Uncle Maddio's at McGowin Park in Mobile 
Problems persist for once promising chain 

Atlanta-based Uncle Maddio's Pizza (the restaurant dropped the "joint" from its branding earlier this year)  has sustained three more closures, one in Buckhead and two in Mobile, Alabama.  The  Buckhead restaurant, located on Roswell Road in Powers Ferry Square, opened in late 2012 and closed last month. (Jinya Ramen Bar will open in place of the Buckhead outpost next year)

Recently two franchised locations in Mobile posted signage announcing they were "temporarily closed until further notice."  When reached for comment last week, a spokesperson for JUMP Restaurant Management (a subsidiary of Jubilee Restaurant Group), the franchisee of the two Mobile locations, would not confirm  if or when the restaurants would reopen.   The Mobile restaurant at McGowin Park, which just opened late this past May, announced via its Facebook page this weekend that both locations are in fact permanently closed.

"We are permanently closed in both locations. Thank you Mobile for all of you support. Please visit us in other locations and check us out on the web."

While lasting longer than the Mcgowan Park location, JUMP's other Mobile location opened last October, meaning it too lasted less than a year before closing.

JUMP operated another unit in nearby Daphne, Alabama, which was opened by another franchise group (which also earlier had development rights to the greater Mobile area) which closed previously.

Just last year JUMP signed a 13-unit development agreement with Uncle Maddio's to expand the chain across the Mid-South into markets like New Orleans, Baton Rouge and "greater Memphis."  At the time of the announcement, the development was said to have been the largest development deal with a single group to date.

We researched the fast-casual pizza segment for two-and-a-half years before choosing Uncle Maddio’s,” said Seth Hargett, founder and president of Jubilee Restaurant Group.

While Jubilee still lists Uncle Maddio's Pizza (Joint) on its website, there is no indication that the company will in fact continue with any previously announced expansion plans.  In addition to Uncle Maddio's, Jubilee operates eleven Five Guys Burgers & Fries locations in four southern states.

As I have reported before, Uncle Maddio's has the pedigree, it was founded by Moe's Southwest Grill co-founder Matt Andrew, and the finances, last year Atlanta Hawks co-owner Rutherford Seydel invested in the company, but still it struggles.
The Buckhead closure comes on the heels of other local Uncle Maddio's closures in Ansley Mall and Edgewood Retail District, earlier this year.

The recent closures follow many others in the chain's dwindling store count.  In addition to the aforementioned locations, Uncle Maddio's restaurants have closed in Sterling, VA, North Charleston, SC (opened  late August 2015 and was closed by late June 2016), Toco Hills (the original), Alpharetta (Windward Parkway) , Woodstock, GA, Austin, TX and Louisville, KY.

The most recent entry under "news" on the Uncle Maddio's website is from last November when they announced the upcoming opening of a new location in Orlando.

The same release contained the following:  "Operating 41 locations in 13 states, Uncle Maddio's has more than 250 units in development and is projected to double in size in 2015."

By my count, Uncle Maddio's current store count is 39 units, with another six "coming soon."

I say "by my count" as according to the website, the two Mobile restaurants are still open and a location expected to open "late 2014" in Loganville is still listed as "coming soon" despite the fact that the location was aborted months ago, before ever opening.

While it's unclear what information is up to date and or what can be believed, another Uncle Maddio's chest beating blurb reads "Since launching its aggressive growth plan in 2008, Uncle Maddio's has signed franchise agreements with 65 different entities in 18 states."

When Seydel made his investment in Uncle Maddio's last year, he gave an interview to QSR Magazine, a trade publication covering the Quick Serve Restaurant industry. Below is an excerpt from that article.

"Seydel also thinks that as the brand continues to expand, its staying power also increases. He concedes that the fast-casual pizza field is crowded, but at 38 units, Uncle Maddio’s is rapidly approaching the 50-unit mark, which Seydel considers the “magic number.” He says that once a brand opens 100 units, the chances of them sliding backwards are greatly reduced."

While I can't speak to other markets, it's curious that with such limited competition for make your own pizza options in the Atlanta area, that Maddio's is struggling the way it is.  It would be more understandable if Blaze Pizza, Pizzeria Locale (the highly regarded pizzeria backed by Chipotle Mexican Grill) Pieology or others were opening locations left and right in metro Atlanta and making the market far more competitive, but as of now, only Pieology has entered the market,  and with only one location in Alpharetta. Pieology does have additional locations planned for both Decatur and Sandy Springs but Blaze has twice delayed their Atlanta entry and there is no indication that Pizzeria Locale will enter the market anytime soon.

Pie Five Pizza Co., which entered the Georgia market last year with locations in McDonough and Newnan had previously announced four new locations in metro Atlanta of which two have already been removed from the website.  The two removed locations were for sites in Chamblee and Roswell while the two remaining were to be located in Kennesaw and Duluth.  The Kennesaw and Duluth locations were both within Fuqua Development projects and are  likely not happening.  Both sites are reportedly actively being "shopped" to other tenants with Pie Five reportedly "wanting out" of both leases.  The pizza chain, which was developing metro Atlanta as a corporate territory, is reportedly interested in assigning the two existing leases to a franchisee but has thus far been unable to secure an agreement with anyone to do so, imagine that.

Although not in the same quantity, a number of Pie Five locations have also closed. A brief internet search reflects that locations in Laurel, MD, Mesa and Scottsdale, AZ, Sterling, VA, Houston, TX, Jordan, UT, Southfield, MI and recently in Orlando,FL, after only 18 months, have all closed.

Other make your own pizza joints have closed locations too, but again, in far fewer numbers.

While I make no claim that any closure count for any brand is comprehensive, I found Your Pie locations to have closed in both Ocala,FL and Athens,GA and a Blaze Pizza closure at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, MD. (the chain claims they are "moving.") Another chain, Pieology, appears to have closed locations in both Pasadena, CA and Draper, UT.

What is Uncle Maddio's doing wrong?  Is the product bad? The locations? What if anything can be done to save this once promising brand?

Please share your thoughts below.


Unknown said...

I eaten from Uncle Maddio's Akers Mill once. The pizza tasted like the cardboard box it came in. No I have not eaten cardbaord but you know what I mean.

SB said...

I think it's about target market not being large enough. Weekday lunchers have too many other QSR options. Pizza lovers in general are not going to go there. And families which they probably counted on order in pizza so much that they're less likely to dine out for pizza frequently enough to keep a place in business.

Greenwave said...

What is Uncle Maddio's doing wrong?
- Their food

Is the product bad?
- Yes it's terrible and has a very bad aftertaste.

I am glad YourPie opened up in Dunwoody. That place stays packed and has very good owners.

AJ said...

While similar, there is a difference between the quick serve pizza market and something like the cupcake or frozen yogurt market. Cupcakes and frozen yogurt stores don't have direct competition, yeah there's ice cream for yogurt, but it's not the same. We had tons of cupcake and yogurt. Many went out of business and the best ones have survived. With QSR pizza, there is too much competition. You can get chain pizza for the same price (or cheaper). I mean, you can get mediocre Maddio's for $8 for a small or you can get mediocre Little Caesars for $5 for a large! And it's ready when you get there. QSR pizza is trying to steal a piece of a market this while different is still pretty much the same. Unless the produce tastes great and it is a great value, to me there isn't enough room for chain pizza, local pizza and QSR pizza.

Anonymous said...

My co-worker and I got to Maddios at Northlake at least 1-2 a month....its hardly bad pizza. We enjoy it.

BKRoswell said...

You spent two-and-a-half years before choosing Uncle Maddio’s and you couldn't figure out that one it wasn't good pizza and two it was overpriced? Probably the two most important points when selling pizza. Why is all of the pizza overpriced and suck in Atlanta? Do you not have taste buds or are you just all a bunch of saps?

Anonymous said...

The Uncle Madio's in Gainesville,GA is some of the best pizza I have ever eaten, so maybe some locations are not making it as fresh and good as this location. The concept is great as long as you have the right people in charge running it and the right location.

jeff a. taylor said...

As I've said from the very beginning with this concept, training is KEY. Pizza is more complex than burritos, execution has to be great. In my two-trip experience the execution was only OK and the crust was WAY below par -- they need a par-bake option, not a frisbee off a truck. I did LOVE the range of toppings, but if the base and assembly is buns, what is the point? Jinya, meanwhile, SEEMS to have great legs.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Maddio's is the best pizza in the US by far. It has the sizes I need so my kids can get their own pizza and I can choose whole wheat or gluten free (or original) and many sauces and 48 toppings. Some of these other brands have this white tasteless crusts and just so so toppings. Maybe some owners are better than others but it is a great brand for my family.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the corporate PR department hijacked the comments. I mean what customer really know all these details "48 toppings". As others have said the issue with your pie and maddio is the quality and taste. It basically taste like subway food. If you go the whole Chipotle route do it right. I want to see a grill back there cooking the chicken and an iron skillet cooking fresh sausage and beef none of this frozen pooh.

AJ said...

I do not mean to be insulting, but the 2 comments from Anon @ 6:32PM and 8:59PM are just utterly ridiculous. There's nothing HORRIBLE about Uncle Maddio's. It's "fine". But to call it "some of the best pizza I have ever eaten" means you've only eaten Papa John's and Dominoes type pizza. And the then the other who says "Uncle Maddio's is the best pizza in the US by far" is just a flat out liar - or they've only had pizza on their High School cafeteria. Come on. That's like calling McDonalds the best hamburger EVER.

Anonymous said...

We were regular customers of the Maddios at Toco Hills from time it opened until it closed (last year?). The pizza was always good and the price seemed reasonable. It seems that what doomed that restaurant was the loss of their liquor license for a period of time. Prior to that, there were times we went there and you couldn't even find an open table. So clearly, people liked the food and atmosphere and the location was convenient.

Anonymous said...

I live in Mobile and have been to the two recently shuttered stores o a fairly regular basis, as well as the one that previously existed in Daphne. Compared to the other options available here (the chains), the pizza was much better, but things began to slip over the last month or two up to their demise. The most apparent was the total lack of the "experience" demonstrated by the staff. Instead of being guided through the making of your pizza, they would simply ask you what you wanted, write it down on a strip of paper underneath the crust, and send you down the line. Sometimes they wouldn't even give a number so whenever it was ready, the staff would have no clue who's order it was. The last time, my pizza came out undercooked and they totally ruined a co-worker's order TWICE! I've ordered online numerous times (where you select a time to pick up). One of the stores ignored it on numerous occasions and began making my order WHEN I ARRIVE....

Is it a great concept with good food? Yes. But the bungled execution and issues that abounded it cost me my business until it was too late. We have another chain here that opened just down the street from one of the closed stores...we'll see how that works out in the end.

Coolio said...

I will say that the loss of a liquor license shouldn't doom a pizza place. If that is the case, basically you're saying you have to be drunk to eat the pizza.

I've eaten at Northlake and Akers Mill, and both times were standard to me. I wasn't writing home about the pizza, nor did I take it out back and shoot it. It's definitely better than store bought pizza.

With all of the issues, however, it looks like this chain would be the prime candidate for an appearance on The Profit. Marcus Lemonis could breathe new life into the place. But I imagine he would want at least 35% to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

I DO mean to be insulting about JA's two comments, as they are just utterly ridiculous.

Anna said...

We like the concept as my husband and I have very different tastes in pizza. But every time we have visited the one at Northlake the service has been terrible. They forget to bring out add-ons (salad, breadsticks) to our table with the pizza so we have to ask over and over. Or they forget to give us a number. Or it just takes forever, when we are getting it for carryout. The slowness and lackadaisical attitude of the workers is a real challenge to get past. To their credit, they helped us by keeping a wallet left there a few years ago. However, our experience in the line up to that point was so unorganized, I think they bear some of the responsibility for our confusion at checkout. We have defected to going to by the slice places where we can customize individually with much less drama. Even though we like their crust so much less. If at Northlake area we now go to Jason's, and have individual salad bars to our heart's content.

Richard Hanson said...

I went to the Toco Hills UM several times. No compelling reason to save 10 minutes there vs. Mellow Mushroom. Not as convenient as having Papa Johns delivered for about the same quality. Papa Johns with extra sauce FTW!!!

Anonymous said...

Although the pizza is good, they have no marketing plan in place. No brand recognition. The name alone, is stale. With Blaze and Pieology around the corner, Uncle Maddios' doesn't seem on trend for the name of a pizza place. The upper management team is run by big egos with no concern for the franchisee. They are more interested in getting their franchise fee and not helping out the franchisee. They put no money into helping their stores. My prediction is they will sell out in a few years. oh, and their "investor' is no more than a good ole boy friendship between two wealthy Atlanta friends.

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