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Pepe's Branches Hurting?????

Regular readers of this board know that I am a New Haven native and a Sally's lover. That said, I do like Pep'e Apizza very much in New Haven, but have never liked the branches in Manchester, Fairfield or Danbury. I have never tried the NY or Casino branches.

I have often found that restaurants doing good business do not resort to coupon magazines to stimulate business. Pepe's in Fairfield county has large billboards on I-95 to advertise.

Today, the March-April edition of Clipper magazine arrived in our mailbox, actually we got 4 copies. Lo, and behold, there is a full-page ad for Pepe's Fairfield and Danbury locations with two coupons. On Fridays and Saturdays they are offering 2 free salads with the purchase of any large pizza. On Sundays-Thursday: $5 off any large pizza.
A large Mozzarella pizza is $16.25 (according to their website).

It appears that business must be hurting to give away 2 salads that would sell for $7.90 with a $16.25 purchase on a Friday or Saturday night.
Taking $5 off a large on weeknights makes Pepe's cheaper than many or the very ordinary local pizza joints.

Even so, I'll still make the 30 minute drive to Wooster Street in New Haven (as I did tonight) for Apizza and avoid the Fairtfield Pepe's which I can reach in 15 minutes.

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  1. It's a pretty big leap to associate promotion and marketing to a company hurting. It could be their very success that is driving the couponing. It could be that they can AFFORD the discounts because they have the volume to do so, and are just trying to increase traffic to even greater numbers. Salads are low cost items to include with a pizza, itself a very high margin product. Think about it, Little Caesars sells a (crap) pizza all day, every day, for a measly $5 and makes money doing it.

    4 Replies
    1. re: CapeCodGuy

      The first couple of years the Fairfield branch was open you would have to wait hours to get in on a Friday and Saturday night. Now, the place is not full.

      IMHO, and I've been a New Haven Apizza eater for almost 60 years, Pepe's took a very good thing and spread it far too thin. They cannot run 6 locations at the same level as the original Wooster St restaurant.

      The staff is different, the ownership is not the same at all locations (assorted partnerships). and it has lost some of its mystique by overexpanding.
      Apizza made in a coal fired brick oven is an artisinal offering and can't be mass recreated ala the McDonald's formula.

      Local New Haven area CHers are familiar with Jimmie's of Savin Rock, a multi generational seafood and hot dog emporium that had branched out in Hamden and Norwalk in the past, that has since retrenched to the main West Haven shorefront location and rakes in the money there.

      1. re: bagelman01

        I can't speak specifically of the Pepe's branches vs. the original, but it could be as simple as the oven. Ask ANY Bostonian to compare the original North End location of Pizzeria Regina to any of the branches and they'll say the same as you, night and day. Why? Most claim it's all about the oven, the original has 90+ years of use and seasoning. The branches are all much newer ovens. Very analogous to Pepe's IMO.

        As to comparing business from 6 or7 years ago to now, omitting the fact that any new restaurant out of the box gets a bump in business which levels off, ALL restaurants are down in this economy, even good ones have double digit decreases.

        1. re: bagelman01

          I agree with this spreading yourself too thin theory. Same thing with Chips for pancakes. First and only Orange. Now Trumbull coming, and he wants to open in Norwalk. Scares me.

          1. re: cheereeo

            I don't care for Chips in Fairfield at all, and find Orange tolerable at best.
            That said, the owner is a friend and he has family to run Fairfield and Trumbull (haven't discussed Norwalk with him).
            Unlike Pepe's he owns all the restaurants, not differnt opartner groups and no need to replicate a 100 year old brick oven.

      2. The yonkers location seems to always have a steady crowd whenever I go.

        Definitely not as good as the original, but a LOT better than most of the places near me. id go more often but its expensive for a pizza joint.

        1. Bagel, I have wondered whether the clam rakers in Rhode Island who supplied only the original Pepe's for decades, can supply all the satellite stores.

          1. I think bagel has a point...coupons, 2fers, early birds are usually the harbingers of a change in strategy. I have never been to the outposts either, but I do believe the over-expansion dilutes the model. Aren't D'bury and Yonkers fairly new? Maybe just trying to create a little traffic in the door, more useful than the stupid "Like us on FB!" nonsense

            4 Replies
            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              Danbury and Yonkers are fairly new. As I understand it, Danbury and Fairfield have the same ownership, Yonkers, Manchester and the Casino have different ownership combinations.
              The traffic at the casino keeps the Pepe's full. The novelty has worn off in Fairfield. Those of us who only eat New Haven Apizza will trek to Wooster Street. For those who just like good pizza, Fairfiled has too many other good choices.

              Friday afternoon, I took my 16 yo to Colony Grill (Fairfield) for lunch. She would not even consider Pepe's. The location is NOT hip.

              In fact my wife saw the coupons in the ad and asked if Pepe's was going to close in Fairfield....

              1. re: bagelman01

                ah Colony...the hot oil pie, right? Friend of mine knows the owner. They're branching out a little too

                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                  Yes, but they are not immune to this problem either. A friend of mine reported that the Colony in Avon closed a few months ago. It never really caught on in that part of the state.

                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                    Actually, I had mushroom, never was a fan of the hot oil pie.
                    I know that they failed in Avon, but Fairfiled is busy and they are opening in Milford soon.

                    BUT, unlike Pepe's who exists on Apizza, Colony in Fairfield (and I assume Milford) is in a trendy entertainment district and has a thriving bar business. Pepe's needs to make it on the food end.

              2. I haven't ever witnessed a slow day @ the Mohegan location.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Td61

                  I just don't understand all this talk that discounts and coupons mean a business is in trouble. Many of the oldest and most successful, and very busy restaurants around here always have coupons and gift certificate deals all the time. It's a viable marketing strategy for a place that wants to maintain traffic and attract new customers. That is all.

                  1. re: CapeCodGuy

                    Not to be argumentative. But the Cape is a unique situation.
                    Having had a home on the Cape for decades, as well as owned rental units there, I've seen that one of the first things tourists (and others from off Cape) do on arrival is look for the dining discounts to make there vacation dollars go farther.

                    And in off season so many of the restaurants are closed or hurting that even the best need all marketing tools available to get through the slow months of reduced population and income.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      Bagel, that's not argumentative at all. You make a valid point.

                    2. re: CapeCodGuy

                      Even expensive restaurants can offer a deal.....apparently Fishtails has no problem with it.

                      The Deal

                      Fishtail by David Burke is rated "very good to excellent" (24) by Zagat. New York Magazine hails this Upper East Side spot a Critics' Pick and calls the restaurant's namesake a "virtuoso chef with a distinct, razzle-dazzle style." For $99, regularly $200, two can dine on a four-course menu packed with fresh seafood options.


                      Personally, I'm more wary of lawyers who advertise myself.

                  2. As someone who ate often at the original for MANY years, I have found the Manchester location to be as good as the original consistantly. We go to Manchester at least once a month and never had a bad pie.

                    I cannot say the same about Fairfield though. We went several times and ONCE had a not so great pie. Fairfield's restaurant is not in a hip location and is a bit out of the way for some in town so I understand why it needs to do extra promotions. Still I do not think it is struggling since it is not located in a high rent district.

                    As for the Colony, I do not get it AT ALL. It is certainly not worth going out of my way for so I do not really bother. Jay

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: JayCT

                      As I posted below, not the same ownership combination in Manchester as Fairfield/Danbury.

                      I did not use the word 'struggling' in my post but questioned if they were hurting.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        What is the distinction to you regarding those two words? Aren't they synonymous in this context?

                        I look at this from a Marketing professional's perspective, not as a foodie, and I can tell you that some of the most successful businesses in their category use coupons for a variety of reasons. One is simply that it is the only reasonable physical measure of the effectiveness of various print or direct mail advertising. It may be as simple as that.

                        1. re: CapeCodGuy

                          Hurting....sales off by 10% or more
                          Struggling....sales off enough that bills are paid consistently late, credit may have been cut off by suppliers, taxes are late to locals and feds, may be in danger of closing without an infusion of fresh capital

                          A restaurant that is hurting will attempt marketing moves such as the coupons in Clipper Magazine. A restaurant that is struggling may not be able to afford to place the advertisements or be on a cash in advance basis.

                          Here in town a local restaurant folded Monday with no notice to the landlord. The landlord, interviewed in the local paper seemed shocked. After all, he said, the new owners (7 years) always paid their rent by the 15th. However, interviews with a major local food wholesaler related that 'we put them on a cash basis 6 months ago. Followup article states they were behind on sales tax remittance to the state and withholding taxes to the feds.

                          In the same shopping center is a 3 year old bistro/bar. They are hurting due to the snow this past month. They normally do a large patio business all winter for the smokers, but the patio has been used as a dumping ground for 5 feet piles of snow. They have run coupon promotions to drum up some extra business.

                          First restaurant was struggling, now dead.
                          Second restaurant is hurting, but spring weather should turn it around.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            Interesting take. Thanks for posting.

                            Restaurant 'A" is "hurting" and needs to increase business. It's willing to do so by offering discounts (coupons) hoping to attract both new clientele and past visitors who have moved on.

                            Restaurant "B" is healthy but, like almost every business, could use extra customer traffic so it offers a coupon to achieve that goal.

                            Restaurant "C" is about as busy as they could hope to be. They regularly advertise in the local daily paper, weekly tabloid, direct mail, radio and even geo-targeted cable TV. It routinely adds coupons with unique redemption codes as a way to concretely measure the effectiveness of all it's print media buys. It has no such tool available for any broadcast media. The owners spend 4 weeks per year at their beachfront home on Antigua.

                            1. re: CapeCodGuy

                              Having spent many years as a retailer, and as a business consultant. Loads of hands on experience, as well as marketing courses (B.S. and MBA-Wharton) long before law school, there are ways to track broadcast media, but not as accurately as print.

                              Have you ever heard a DJ say: "tell them that 'Dapper Dan' on WXXX sent your and get that special WXXX discount for 'Dapper Dan's' listeners only?."

                              Sure some listeners will share the buzz with others who don't listen, but the total request for the WXXX deal can be tracked.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                Great credentials, and surprisingly similar to mine, (BS Marketing/ MBA Harvard, 40+ years marketing professional, consultant, and operator of both retail and wholesale multinationals).

                                But really? Nothing tracks like a coupon. "Tell 'em Dan sent ya?" Not even close.

                    2. Found Manchester to a pale imitation of Wooster St. Both the environment and the pizza suffered badly IMHO, never to return even if free.

                      1. I find it a little disconcerting that the speculation over the economic health of Pepe's outposts rests solely on a supposition from the OP "I have often found that restaurants doing good business do not resort to coupon magazines." This is then followed by the conclusion that, " It appears that business must be hurting..." The title of the thread includes the gloomy "hurting" which is later self-defined by the OP. The title also includes not one but a compelling five question marks. ?????

                        An unfortunate aspect of the internet is that titles of threads like these with utterly unsupported opinions could end up being self-fulfilling prophesies. "I read on CH about Pepe's..." I'm surprised such educated and experienced folk in the field would nonetheless engage in such potentially damaging idle speculation without a whit of evidence. I only bring this up because folks felt the need to itemize their credentials to support their positions rather than evidence.

                        With other posts above I've seen countless successful businesses, including restaurants of all sorts, use coupons in circulars. I suggest that they are successful because, unlike the OP's research, I have visited many of the businesses, seen full parking lots, numerous customers, comments and reviews by others, etc.

                        Businesses may use coupons to keep their names exposed to potential customers looking for value. If competition uses coupons because they are "hurting," a successful business may use them to keep from losing customers. Coupon deals may appear like losses but as noted, with high margin items, not really. And what if the coupon does look like a loss? Loss leaders are used all the time by business because they know the bottom line will not be a loss. Even successful businesses constantly look for new customers. It's one of the reasons they are successful. But then you guys knew all that.

                        I expected to read something factual. It seems to me that many times mom and pop places do not easily translate into chains and this title piqued my interest to see if Pepe's did have issues. But we really don't know, at least not yet. For the record I went to community college then got a BA from a state school. :)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: RC51Mike

                          100% agreed Mike. Opinions are one thing, and each is as relevant as the next. Supposition and innuendo is irresponsible, plain and simple. And it really has no place here.

                        2. A friend gave me a coupon for Frank Pepe's in Manchester so we went Friday night. I was surprised they were issuing coupons for the Manchester location given what has been posted here.

                          We got there early (around 5:00) and walked right in and sat down but by the time we left there was a line to get in as usual. The coupon got us two free salads with a large pizza. He also had another coupon for $5 off a large pizza on a weeknight other than Friday. The pizza was great as usual so I can't complain. Jay

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: JayCT

                            So, is safe to say that your opinion, as someone who researched it by actually GOING there, was that they were not actually ''hurting'' when issuing a coupon?

                            1. re: CapeCodGuy

                              I don't think so. JayCT gives anecdotal evidence about 1 visit to the Manchester location.

                              Sunday Night, my kids went to the Fairfield branch for a final Apizza meal before the onset of Passover. Upon return I asked if there was a wait. They arrived at 7:15 and were seated immediately. Daughter said the place was never more than 60% full during their meal. They used the coupon from Clipper Mag for $5 off the apizza.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                Uh-oh, the dreaded "anecdotal" evidence...sounds like a true life experience, which personally, holds more water with me. The kids in Fairfield - sounds darn anecdotal too, tho, no?!!

                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                  absolutely, which is why i don't feel it is 'safe to say' anything based on JayCT's post. his experience friday night in Manchester was different than my kids' experience Sunday evening in Fairfield.
                                  None of this is a scientific study or even a gathering of tabuable (sic) info such as your pickup/delivery poll

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    Ha! This scientist barely graduated from high school

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      A quick search for coupons on Restaurant.com reveals that there are 97 restaurants within 20 miles of Fairfield, CT. that are 'hurting'. Quite the catastrophe for that area.

                                      1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                        Unfortunately that's a BAD database for your observation.

                                        They have a number of restaurants in the list that are within 20 miles as the crow flies, but are across the Long Island Sound in New york requiring a 2-3 hour drive each way or $100 plus on the ferry and 1 1/2 hours each way.

                                        That said, many of the restaurants on the list are terrible, some passable, none really good. I noticed Stella's in Stratford, who is also in Entertainment book. Was featured last year on Robert Irvine's Restaurant Impossible. Even with a $10k makeover and buy one get one, you couldn't get us to give them another chance. I posted a couple months ago about our terrible meal there.

                                        Fairfield County has hundreds if not more than a thousand eateries. If you winnow out the listings on Restaurant.com that show up, but are actually out of state, and those in Stamford and lower Norwalk that are NOT part of the greater Bridgeport dining scene there might be 50 listings. Taking advantage of a no cash outlay advertising medium.

                                        Restaurant.com who makes its money from consumers, not the advertisers is a different avenue than Clipper Magazine (where the Pepe's coupons in OP appeared), where the restaurant had to lay out cash to buy the advertisement.

                                        It costs restaurants nothing to be listed on Restaurant.com, the only cost is the cost of the plate, labor, etc. when a coupon is redeemed.

                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                          I don't care enough about it to study a map of the places listed as being within 20 miles, so I'll take your word the number of 97 eateries may be somewhat exaggerated. Maybe too, the tens of thousands across their entire database. All 'hurting'? None really good as you say. Or have you experience with all of them like you imply to have with the 97?

                                          Whatever. Apparently you think that there's no hard cost to putting put a $25 menu priced plate of food at zero revenue

                                          1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                            I NEVER said that all those on Restaurant.com are hurting. In fact in the OP I question whether Pepe's is hurting, I don't declare it to be so.
                                            Of the listings on Restaurant.com that are in the Bridgeport area, I have tried approx 80%, and make my observations about them.
                                            I said that the establishments using Restaurant.com to drive additional business have no cash outlay and no cost until a coupon is redeemed. There absolutely is a cost to serve the meal on a redeemed coupon, and I said so.

                                            1. re: bagelman01

                                              The implication of this thread was clear. You received a coupon from Pepe's and, using your own words, ''it appears that business must be hurting to give away two free salads on a Saturday night ''. You then went on in later posts to descibe couponing as a sign of a weak business. I point out that restaurant.com is a pure coupon site and your response is they're different because there's no hard up front cost. So I'll ask uou this, which has more potential negative impact on a bottom line, 2 free salads with the purchase of a $20 pizza (with an upfront associated risk/cost of say $300) or $25 worth of free food @ retail (with no upfront cost)? The layman's answer is that depends on #s redeemed. But with a decent circulation it's safe to assume a good redemption rate.

                                              1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                                When Artie's Nuovo Vesuvio was in financial distress:

                                                "The Sopranos: Luxury Lounge (#6.7)" (2006)
                                                Tony Soprano: Well, listen, the other day I was driving along, thinking about your little problem. How bout a promotion? Coupon, two for one.
                                                Artie Bucco: Two-fers. Wow. You mean like you get a free spaghetti and meatballs if you bring another cheap comare d**bag in here? How 'bout an early bird special? Salad wagon? This is a fine dining establishment. I'll give it back to the bank before I turn into a f**ing IHOP!

                                                Bourdain also has a similar outlook on coupon games in Kitchen Confidential, can't remember his exact words

                                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                  Great post BB. Thanks for the chuckle!

                                                  1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                                    I agree. I'll start to mourn Pepe's when the pizzas are "all you can eat" and are piled with fake whipped cream.

                            2. Folks, this thread is getting really far afield from the kind of thing that works well in a regional category. The issue of whether coupons are a sign that a business is hurting is a pretty broad one that isn't specific to this small chain, and whether the chain actually is hurting isn't something people here are likely to be able to confirm. And now the thread is degenerating into a debate about whether the thread itself should even exist.

                              It would be really great if people could focus on their food experiences at Pepe's -- is it the same as it's always been? Are you seeing signs in the food that they're cutting corners? Have they upped their game? That kind of info will help people decide if the restaurants are still worth visiting.