Uno debuts new fast-casual concept

Uno Restaurant Holdings Corp. is experimenting with a new fast-casual concept, Uno Fresco, which opened in Stoneham, Mass., last month.

The parent company of Uno Pizzeria & Grill, the 131-unit casual-dining chain, also franchises five fast-casual Uno Dué Go locations in Texas, Wisconsin and Ohio, and operates one location in Boston, where the company is headquartered.

Uno Dué Go serves breakfast and lunch, and has a separate grab-and-go bakery section. Uno Fresco serves lunch and dinner.

Chris Westcott, vice president at Uno Fresco, said Uno Dué Go is suitable for urban settings, while Uno Fresco is designed more for the suburbs.

“It’s less, ‘You go to this station, I’ll go to that station, let’s meet at a table,’ and more of a dining experience,” he said of the new concept.

Guests at Uno Fresco order and pay at the counter and are handed a numbered wooden pizza peel to take to their table, where their orders are delivered.

Seating options include booths, a communal “pizza bar” and an outdoor patio. The restaurant also has a takeout menu and online ordering for guests to pick up.

With no tipping required, guests perceive better value in the experience, which, five weeks into operations, has already garnered the restaurant a following of regular customers, Westcott said.

“We have staff that already know guests on a first-name basis,” he said.

The menu features 19 pizzas ranging from Margherita deep dish to a thin-crust pie with prosciutto, fig and arugula, as well as classic deep-dish sausage and mozzarella and thin-crust barbecue pork. They are priced between $5.99 for a seven-inch deep dish or 11-inch thin crust, and $15.99 for 10-inch deep dish or 16-inch thin crust.

Salads, starting at $6.99, can be customized with eight proteins, including fresh mozzarella, herb-roasted salmon and tofu. Chef-designed salads are available as well, along with soups, priced at $3; panini and premium Fork ’n Knife sandwiches, starting at $6.99; chicken entrées, priced at $9.99; pastas for $7.99 and $8.99; and snacks such as $4 pizza rolls, $4 sweet-and-spicy mixed nuts, $5 meatballs or wings, and $5 guacamole with chips. Desserts include cookies and brownies for $2, and Strawberry Shortcake and Pizza Dough S’mores for $3.

Both craft beer and wine are on tap, and Westcott said he planned to feature craft beer from local breweries as the concept expanded.

A kids’ menu includes small portions of Uno’s signature deep-dish cheese pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Uno Fresco also offers gluten-free dough and bread.

Westcott said he’s pleased with the progress the restaurant has made in its first five weeks.

“We are getting incredible feedback from our guests — a lot of very positive feedback about the look and feel, the menu, variety, and value,” he said. “We really feel like we’re getting rewarded for what we’re putting into it.”

Construction has begun and management is being trained for Uno Fresco’s second location, at the Tanger Outlets mall in Deer Park, N.Y.

“Our strategy there is not to be a mall restaurant,” Westcott said. “We just happen to be a restaurant in a mall.”

Marketing will target local businesses and residents with the message that the restaurant is convenient, close to the parking lot and a good local dining option.

Additional expansion plans are in the works. A lease has been signed for a location in Newton, Mass., which Westcott hopes to open in late October.

“It’s a very densely populated, urban edge community that we’re excited about,” he said. “We’re in negotiation on several other sites, with a plan to do as many as five locations in 2015.”

For now, all of those locations are company owned, but Westcott said the goal over the long term is to have a blend of franchised and company-owned units.

“We’ll always have a stake in the game, but this is being positioned and developed with a franchise community in mind,” he said.

Casual-dining Uno Pizzeria & Grill’s 137 locations are about 60-percent company-owned.

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