One Fort Worth restaurant has increased its profits and not laid off any employees despite the economic challenges posed by the pandemic.
ZaLat Pizza was founded in Dallas in 2015 and expanded to Fort Worth in January. The restaurant was still building a clientele in the spring when the COVID-19 lockdowns began, leaving restaurants largely dependent on takeout.
Texas recorded its first COVID-19 case on March 4. Fifteen days later, Gov. Abbott limited restaurants to takeout and closed bars across the state. Within days restaurants saw revenue drop by 65.3% compared to 2019.
By the time customers were allowed back inside, restaurants had seen revenue fall by as much as 72.9% from the same date in 2019.
When the governor announced people could dine inside again, ZaLat was ready.
“When COVID-19 started, our owner immediately ordered masks for the entire company and we started to implement all the safety protocols that the CDC now recommends,” said Kevin Moore, area director of the Fort Worth restaurant. “It was a really good thing because it put us ahead of the learning curve.”
The restaurant also adjusted its hours. They shortened them from their typical late night schedule, which reduced labor costs and helped them turn a profit despite a lack of in-person customers.
“We are a late-night pizza parlor and typically stay open until 4 a.m., so once the bars closed down we changed our opening time and closing time to adjust in that change in business,” said Moore.
Restaurants, including ZaLat, began to see an increase in revenue due to takeout and especially after restrictions for opening were placed.
“We didn’t see any decrease in sales; we actually picked up more business when COVID-19 kicked into gear,” said Moore. “Our sales were significantly higher than previous years before the pandemic, and we were even able to keep the sales consistently up after the shutdown.”
With new health restrictions placed, including a cap on restaurant capacity, ZaLat knew the company would need to heavily rely on its marketing strategies to keep business rates high.
“One of the main strategies we use as a company is in our core belief system, called Sculling,” said Moore. “We basically all get in a room and throw out ideas to come up with the best possible idea to solve the problem we have, like marketing. We challenge our team to leave their egos at the door and be willing to change their opinions.”
ZaLat Pizza relies heavily on its company culture to keep business alive, especially during unprecedented times like this year.
“Part of the mystery behind ZaLat is we have a cult-like following. The company culture as a whole is probably what drives the product,” said Moore. “We have great pizza, but it is also a great place to work for our employees.”
ZaLat refers to its employees as “Zealots” who are “on a mission from the Gods to make THE best pizza.”
The restaurant offers full benefits to all employees, no matter their status with the company. This includes life insurance, Medical Vision and stock options for ZaLat.
“It helped to drive the fact that we did not need to lay anyone off during the pandemic,” said Moore.
When restaurants began to reopen, many took the approach to reduce menu options for customers. The reason was “to shed complexities and costs, and push simpler or more popular items at a time when conserving cash is crucial for restaurant operators,” according to CNN.
The profits that ZaLat had seen in the initial phase of the pandemic allowed the restaurant to keep its original menu and not downsize.
“We did not change the menu whatsoever,” said Moore. “In fact right now we are rolling out a limited-time offer pizza and added a new pizza to our menu about three or four weeks ago. We didn’t see any need to reduce it.”
ZaLat Fort Worth is located on Foch Street, next to several popular bars that TCU students enjoy visiting on the weekends. Since returning to campus, students have also helped increase the restaurant’s income.
“ZaLat Fort Worth has seen an increase in business since students have returned,” said Moore. “Now that we have extended our hours again on Friday through Sunday, we have had an increase after students go to bars on West 7th Street.”
ZaLat Pizza has set ambitious goals for the company in 2021. It hopes to see a continuous upward trend in revenue as the one-year anniversary of the Fort Worth location approaches.
“The main goal for ZaLat in 2021 is to expand our footprint and double in size,” said Moore. “Our goal is to build 1,000 restaurants and take it to an IPO [initial public offering] to get publicly traded.”