OMAHA, Neb. — Cubby’s Inc. is on a mission: to become a restaurant that just so happens to sell fuel.
The Omaha-based owner and operator of 41 convenience stores, supermarkets and quick-service restaurants throughout Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, sees itself not as a convenience store company or a grocery store company, but rather a foodservice company.
For nearly 20 years, Cubby's has been partnering with Godfather's Pizza at its stores. Starting with one Godfather's Pizza Express location, the retailer is now one of the brand's top franchisees.
Founded in 1973, Godfather's Pizza has more than 595 franchise locations in more than 40 states, ranging from traditional dine-in restaurants to express outlets — airports, convenience stores, college campuses, etc. — and more than 900 Godfather's Pizza To Go locations.
This year, Cubby's made the jump into owning traditional Godfather's Pizza locations. In March, the retailer acquired its first standalone Godfather's Pizza restaurant in its hometown of Omaha.
"We are already one of the top Godfather's Pizza franchisees in the United States, so why not include a traditional version of what we already do," Cubby's Chief Operating Officer Mike Wilson said at the time of the acquisition. "We look forward to continuing to grow with the brands we work with, as we continue to grow our business and diversify our portfolio."
In late June, Cubby's acquired another three traditional Godfather's Pizza locations in Omaha from KT Restaurants. "This acquisition allows us to continue to grow our foodservice footprint. These three units are strategically located in growth areas that will allow us to expand our reach throughout the Omaha metro area," noted Wilson. "We value our partnership with Godfather's Pizza and are excited about being able to help grow the brand further."
Convenience Store News recently caught up with Wilson to discuss Cubby's longstanding partnership with Godfather's Pizza and the retailer's game plan to further diversify its portfolio.
CSNews: You say you are working hard to become a restaurant that just so happens to sell fuel. Can you elaborate on how you are working to achieve this?
Wilson: Working all over the United States, I have been able to see the changes in how c-stores are profitable. Gone are the days of "cokes and smokes." While electric vehicles are coming, the center of the country will be last to convert. The real 600-pound gorilla is the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards; by 2025, they will be set at around 54 MPG [miles per gallon]. That seriously limits the opportunity for me to sell you something.
The one way you can change that is to have great options for customers so that you become a destination vs. someone who depends on what someone's fuel gauge says. We focus on providing the best pizza with Godfather's and the best chicken with our partners at Chester's International to complement our grab-and-go program. Focus on what you are good at and drive it.
CSNews: Cubby's is one of the top Godfather's Pizza franchisees in the United States. What would you say has led to this success?
Wilson: Godfather's is the best pizza you can have. From the first time I tried it, when I was in college in Kansas, it was the best I'd ever had. Many years later, that is still the case. Our partners at Godfather's Pizza are terrific and very easy to work with. They truly believe in the brand and are cheerleaders for what De Lone [Wilson, Cubby's president,] and I are doing to grow the brand.
CSNews: What are the key differences between the traditional, Express and To Go formats?
Wilson: Traditional Godfather's Pizza units are usually located in strip centers or standalone buildings that solely deal with Godfather's Pizza. Most have dining, some have buffets, and many have drive-up windows. Godfather's Express is a concept that is located inside another store, usually a grocery store or c-store with a focus on mini pizzas. Many Express locations also make large pizzas, and some even deliver. Godfather's To Go is an already-topped mini pizza that is ready to cook. The To Go concept is good for small locations that do not have the ability to run a full-fledged operation.
CSNews: Are you looking to add more traditional Godfather's Pizza restaurants to your portfolio?
Wilson: Absolutely. We continue to be open to purchasing more when it makes sense to our current footprint or growth plans.
CSNews: Are you looking to add more Express locations or To Go locations to your portfolio?
Wilson: Yes, my goal is to have an Express or To Go [concept] in 95 percent of our stores by the end of the first quarter of 2023.
CSNews: Under your Raise Some Dough program, Cubby's donates $1 to school districts for every large Godfather's Pizza it sells. Why did the company choose to support education?
Wilson: The markets that we serve are small and, in most cases, rural. Schools rely on property taxes and in small rural areas, those revenues are small. We may raise $1,000 for a school and they are truly grateful and excited. The money we raise stays in the community and gives schools a little more so that they can provide an excellent education for their students.
We promote the Raise the Dough program at our locations, through social media and, in large part, through word of mouth. In these small communities, being a real part of the community is all the advertising you need to do.
CSNews: Aside from doing good, are there business benefits that come from this giving program? Do you attract more customers on account of this program?
Wilson: As with anything that companies do, the more successful we are, the more we can support the community. It has been my experience that when you take care of your employees, you do right by your customers and you involve yourself in the communities that you serve, you end up having a beneficial partnership. Unlike the larger chains that show up with their large checks and then disappear, we involve ourselves in the community permanently. Whether it's the sponsorship of a kids' sports team or supporting the local businesses and schools, we are involved.