New year, new name for Pizza Inn Holdings


Meet Rave Restaurant Group, the company formerly known as Pizza Inn Holdings.

The parent of Pizza Inn and Pie Five Pizza will rename its holding company and change its ticker to "RAVE" from "PZZI" effective Friday on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The company, which has struggled to compete with larger pizza players, is trying to signal what it sees as a new era of growth for itself.

Pie Five Pizza Farmer’s Market pizza
Source: Rave Restaurant Group

"Names matter in this world," said the restaurant's CEO Randy Gier in a phone interview. "They are things that indicate your aspirations to employees, customers and investors, and we have great aspirations and think we're a different company than what you've been."

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Pizza Inn has faced some tough times in its history, filing for banking protection in 1989. Its domestic store count has shrunk over the years as it's faced stiff competition from larger chains like Yum Brands' Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza, Little Caesar's and Papa Johns. The company, which is not covered by analysts, has a market cap of about $73 million—a small fraction of these rivals. During fiscal 2014, the company raised $5.6 million from the sale of stock but recorded an adjusted net loss of $468,000 as it invested in Pie Five.

"Trying to compete with the advertising strength of the larger brands has been difficult," said Darren Tristano, Technomic's executive vice president, in a phone interview.

Rave's Gier admitted the Pizza Inn chain has "been in decline" in the past but said it has been "on a terrific track" lately. In its preliminary second-quarter results, Pizza Inn reported domestic comparable store sales rose 6.4 percent from the same period of the prior year, while Pie Five comparable store sales increased 16.9 percent year over year.

This is an improvement from fiscal 2014, when Pizza Inn domestic comparable franchisee store sales shrank 1.1 percent

The name change, chosen from a list of more than 80, reflects its move from a single chain to one that incorporates its faster growing Pie Five restaurant along with its slower-growing legacy restaurant, Pizza Inn. Currently, Pie Five has 31 locations with plans for more than 400 additional franchised and company-owned units over the next five to six years. For now, Pizza Inn still accounts for the majority of the company's units at about 180 domestically.

Pizza Inn is one of several companies betting on the fast casual customized pizza category with its Pie Five chain. Other entrants include Blaze Pizza, Project Pie and PizzaRev, which counts Buffalo Wild Wings as an investor.

While the fast-casual segment has posted strong growth from companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill, "the fast casual Italian or pizza category has been underpenetrated" but is now seeing rapid expansion, Technomic's Tristano said.

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Over the past decade, the company's sales have shrunk to $42.22 million in the year ended in June from $59.99 million in the comparable period as other chains like Domino's Pizza and Papa John's have ballooned, according to FactSet data.

Customers won't notice any differences in stores as a result of the name change.

"The name change is probably more for employees and investors as a signal that it's a different name than you've known," Gier said.