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This 300-Unit Pizza Chain Went From Bankruptcy to Growth By Providing Entertainment

Restaurants now feature new and improved game rooms.

It appears that all-you-can-eat pizza was not enough to keep one chain afloat during the pandemic. The go-to spot for birthday parties, sports team celebrations, and all things carbs declared bankruptcy in 2020 after years of struggling . . . until new owners changed the game, quite literally.

Texas-based Cicis Pizza, a 300-unit, low-cost pizza buffet concept, struggled during the last few years, as customers switched from dining in to takeout and delivery. The chain declared bankruptcy and was sold to a new group that included Applebee's operator SSCP Management, according to Restaurant Business. Thanks to the transition, the chain has found new life by ramping up a long-neglected asset: its game rooms.

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Cicis restaurants have been expanding their entertainment offerings, with restaurants opening larger game rooms and even giving customers the ability to win tickets and prizes, arcade-style. Sure, the concept of games isn't a new one for Cicis, but it has gone from contributing about 1% of the revenue, to the current 10% to 20%.

"Video games are a big part of our deal now," said the chain's president Jeff Hetsel, calling the effort a "game changer."

cicis pizza game room
Cicis Pizza / Facebook

"The focus is on engaging our former, current and future guests in a fun and creative way that highlights the value and the experiences we offer," Stephanie Hoppe, Cici's chief marketing officer, told Pizza Marketplace. "In the first few weeks of the campaign launch, we were already seeing double-digit increases."

Cicis Pizza also created a new whimsical spokesman: C.C. Pazzini, a four-inch man who has a magical flying machine and speaks in rhymes.

"There's a lot of noise in the market right now, so we're excited to help Cicis use this fantastic creative to break through and meet their consumers in the right environments to build even more brand love," says Chad Maxwell, the chief strategy officer at Kelly Scott Madison, the media agency that was brought on to help with Cicis' planning strategy, investment and analytics efforts.

A silly spokesman, unlimited pizza, pasta, salad, and dessert plus video games? What more could you want?

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Read more about Danielle