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Published: Tuesday, 11/24/2009

Toledo-based Marco's Pizza goes international

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

You can't yet order Caribbean jerk chicken on a Marco's pizza, but you can order a Marco's chicken pizza in the Caribbean.

Toledo-based Marco's Pizza this month opened its first franchised store outside the United States - in Nassau, Bahamas - and has a commitment to open 30 more stores in the Caribbean over the next few years.

"It's exciting. Growing is fun," said Peter Wise, vice president for marketing at Marco's Pizza, which is headquartered on Monroe Street.

The Bahamas store opened Nov. 16 in a small shopping center in a residential neighborhood, and business was booming, Mr. Wise said.

"Given the response that [the new store] saw this first full week of operations, there's a huge demand."

Growing rapidly since it was started in Toledo in 1978 by founder Pasquale "Pat" Giammarco, the chain has nearly 200 stores in 17 states, but international sales weren't anywhere on the radar, Mr. Wise said.

Enter Terry Tsavoussis, a restaurant veteran who operates a number of Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurants in the Bahamas with his brother, Chris. The two brothers had opened and operated nearly a dozen Domino's Pizza franchise stores on the Caribbean island between 1990 until they sold them all in 2000.

Nine years removed from slinging dough and spreading sauce, the brothers believed there were opportunities to make money making pizza again in Nassau, especially after competitors Papa John's and Pizza Hut pulled out, Terry Tsavoussis said.

"There's competition here, but it's not as fierce as in other markets," he said.

The brothers discovered the Marco's brand in an advertisement in a restaurant magazine.

Mr. Tsavoussis said he "tried the product in Florida, and I was blown away. I know pizza, and it was great pizza."

He said months of negotiations followed, focusing primarily on convincing the pizza chain's management team that the Caribbean was a growth opportunity and that the logistics of delivering fresh ingredients to an island more than 100 miles off the Florida coast could be overcome.

As it is, Mr. Tsavoussis said his new store - and five more to be built in Nassau and Freeport over the next two years - will receive supplies from the mainland via shipping container from Florida, about a 12-hour trip.

He said the growth in the region is in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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