A business-savvy family steps in to continue the legacy of an Ohio institution—and ambitious expansion plans via franchising are underway.
Brian Claggett was once just another fan of Plaza Pizza in Newark, Ohio, which founders Mike and Donna Brown began in 1971—he and his seven siblings ate there growing up, on weekends and after ball games. “Plaza Pizza was a staple in the community for a long time,” Brian recalls. “I’m active-duty military and was living in South Korea when my mom texted me, ‘Plaza Pizza’s for sale; you guys should think about buying it.’ I laughed, but then I looked at their financials, and we came to an agreement. We took over in January 2019 and found out quickly it was very profitable!”
The Claggett family owned construction businesses for four generations, so crafting successful operations was second nature. Brian immediately made modern-day updates, like installing a POS, accepting credit cards, adding online ordering and DoorDash delivery, and advertising with Facebook and Google. The recipes, of course, stayed exactly the same—including the pizza, done in a style that Brian calls a “crackery, buttery-flavored crust that’s very popular here in Ohio.” However, he adds, “We’re confident that ours is head and shoulders above the competition. One thing we haven’t touched is the recipes, but we feel like, with so much technology out there, we need to embrace it in order to be successful, especially as we franchise and face the stiff competition out there.”
Indeed, Brian has ambitious expansion plans and hired iFranchise Group to help create operations manuals, determine viability and maximize efficiency. Early results are encouraging: A second location, in the adjacent town of Heath, took off after its 2020 opening. Brian now wants to franchise 50 stores in the next five years, in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Luckily, he has a solid support team of family members: Brother Ben manages both locations, overseeing everything from ordering to customer service; Ben’s wife, Kori, manages the Newark store; and Brian’s sister Olivia manages operations at Heath.
With a streamlined, pizza-centric menu, food costs are kept low, and by offering carryout only, no staff is needed for dine-in (instead, the Heath location features a pickup window, very popular in blustery Ohio winters). Supporting local schools and churches builds goodwill in the small communities, as does maintaining excellent customer service. But Brian believes that the success comes down to one factor. “I think it’s simple: The product is great,” he says. “With the amount of people who come in and tell us it’s the best pizza they’ve ever had, it’s special. All these years—through economic recessions, COVID, everything—sales didn’t go down. People just kept coming back.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of PizzaVegan.com.