Mark Pacinda, CEO, Boston Pizza

Newly appointed Boston Pizza CEO Mark Pacinda talks about the restaurant's eastward expansion and its duality as a family joint and sports bar.

Mark Pacinda, Boston Pizza CEO | BCBusiness

Newly appointed Boston Pizza CEO Mark Pacinda talks about the restaurant’s eastward expansion and its duality as a family joint and sports bar.

Richmond-based Boston Pizza International Inc. has been on an eastward march since hiring Mark Pacinda as executive vice-president in 1997 to lead the charge, and now it seems like every strip mall between Steveston and Shawinigan is home to one of its family-restaurant-cum-sports-bars. As the newly appointed CEO working out of a Toronto-area office, Pacinda is taking charge of all 325 restaurants, as well as the Boston Pizza Royalties Income Fund. Boston Pizza has conquered suburbia, so what’s next?

You handled the eastward expansion; can you describe some of the challenges involved in taking a western brand and 
moving east?

I joined in late ’97 and I was looking for a different challenge. I was the first employee hired outside of our head office in Vancouver and I basically was given the responsibility of setting up an office, building a corporate training centre and looking for franchisees. Certainly it was a challenge in the earlier days, but we got a few restaurants open. When I started we had three restaurants in northern Ontario and one in Thunder Bay but nothing in southern Ontario, and 14 years later we have 108 restaurants. So it was a pretty cool experience to go through.

Was that eastward expansion concentrated in strip malls and suburban areas?

Because of our family component, we’re a suburban brand; most of our locations are in suburbia. We just fit perfectly in those markets where you have folks raising young families and Boston Pizza is very kid friendly. And then development in those markets was easier to do. Wal-Mart opened up the bulk of their outlets in Ontario during that time frame and I think we’re on half-a-dozen Wal-Mart pads as part of that. 

Suburban development has slowed with the recession and gas prices; will Boston Pizza start looking for new locations?

Yes, we just opened up a restaurant at Front and John Street, in downtown Toronto, right across from Rogers Arena. It has a totally different look, a more urban look for us. We spent a lot of time focusing on that and making sure we came up with a relevant prototype. That restaurant has been open for about five or six weeks and we’re going to use that to hopefully get into those downtown areas like Vancouver and Toronto and Montreal. That certainly is a big push for us now; we’re under-penetrated in those markets, so a lot of our future growth is going to rely on developing them.

Here in the West you have Cactus Club and Milestones and a lot of other competition; how do you see your positioning relative to those brands?

One of the things we like about our brand is that a lot of the other concepts are upper-mid scale, so Cactus Club is a classic example of that. It’s a great brand, a great concept, but you’re not going to confuse it with Boston Pizza and the cost to dine there is quite expensive. There also seems to be no lack of people who are prepared to go into that segment, whether it’s Moxie’s or The Keg or Cactus Club or Earls, so we like our positioning as a family restaurant. Where we think we have a competitive advantage for the downtown core, especially in the West, is there’s no sports bar chain of a large size that can get people in, especially if they want to watch sports. And the price point, I mean we’re never going to have the prices on our entrees and appetizers that you would see with them.

How rapidly do you expect to be expanding?

The downtown core expansion piece is more difficult to do because those locations are typically already developed out; there are locations and buildings and tenants in there. It’s going to take a little bit longer to do that, but we’re certainly going to push and I think once we get a toehold in then developers and landlords will know that we’re open for business down there and more cites will come our way. It’s hard to put a number on that; we’re just going to really feel our way and see how we make out over the next couple of years.

What was the thinking behind combining family dining with a sports bar?

We have on one side of our restaurant a family dining area and on the other side we have a sports bar. So when the restaurants typically are through their peak time and it starts to get quiet, the sports bars tend to pick up and continue. It’s something that we started about 25 years ago in our business and kept developing.

Are the two halves of Boston Pizza restaurants really compatible?

I think so. When we look at our guests, we’ve got Dad, who’s in his mid-to-late forties who comes in with his family and will go to the restaurant side, but then when Dad comes out to watch a hockey game or when he’s out with his buddies for a beer and some chicken wings, he’ll go on the bar side. They kind of live close together but they are two different experiences. 

Do you think people know you’re Canadian, and does it matter if they don’t?

I think for a lot of the average guests that come in they probably assume we’re an American company, but we have done a lot of work on our menu and at different times throughout our foundation we talk to the fact that we are a born and bred Canadian company. I think at the end of the day Wal-Mart did not become the biggest retailer in Canada because they were American or Canadian. They became the largest retailer because they provide great products at a great price. I think the consumers in North America are too sophisticated to say, ‘We’ll go to you because you’re American or because you’re Canadian.’ You have to do your job and do it well.