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Nearly-Forgotten Sbarro Opened a Record Number of Restaurants In 2022 and Isn't Planning to Stop

Is the quintessential mall pizza making a comeback?

At its peak in the early 2000s, Sbarro was the quintessential food court option at malls across America. Back then, it boasted over 1,000 locations in the United States and abroad. However, recent years haven't been quite as kind to the pizza chain. In 2014, the company filed for its second bankruptcy, and sales declined by over 10% in 2015 and 2016. While the chain's financials somewhat recovered around 2017, the COVID-19 pandemic was predictably brutal for a brand that relies heavily on foot traffic in malls. As of 2021, the chain's unit count had declined to only 600 worldwide locations, 350 of which were located domestically.

Today, however, Sbarro is in the midst of a major expansion, and showing no signs of stopping. The company has just announced that with the recent unveiling of new locations in the Philippines and the United States, it surpassed 100 new store openings in 2022. That's the most Sbarro restaurants ever opened within one calendar year.

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The pizza brand that started in Brooklyn in the 1950s celebrated a number of additional milestones last year. Its 200th domestic franchise restaurant opened last year, as well as its 300th international franchise location, and its 500th franchise location. The Original XL New York Pizza was also introduced to three new countries (Poland, North Macedonia, and Georgia) in 2022.

"I am so grateful for the faith and trust of our franchisees and our corporate and field teams that have made these milestones possible," says David Karam, Sbarro CEO, in a press release.

So what was behind Sbarro's decline in the first place? Many blamed subpar pizza in comparison to competitors. After all, Sbarro's culinary tactic of serving pre-prepared, heat-lamp-warmed pizza doesn't exactly scream gourmet. After taking the reins roughly a decade ago, however, CEO Karam decided to embrace Sbarro's status as the #1 name in food court pizza, or "the leading quick-service chain serving the impulse pizza occasion."

sbarro pizza plate
Sbarro / Facebook

"With our focus on the Impulse Pizza segment, we've been able to feature our Pizza by the Slice and Strombolis to drive customer loyalty. By honing in on our key points of differentiation, it's opened the doors to numerous new venues for growth including military bases, theme parks, C-stores, train stations and travel centers," Karam explains. "I'm especially proud that our openings have been so balanced worldwide with half coming in the US and half in the now more than 25 countries we operate in."

Today, Sbarro finds itself approaching 700 overall restaurants, but the pizza brand is already looking ahead to further expansion in 2023 and beyond.

"This is just the beginning for this great brand," Karam adds. "We have an incredibly strong development pipeline and we're as excited as ever for our future."

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more about John