By Marina Mayer
For Joe Perrino, family is everything. That’s why when he stepped into the chief executive officer position of the pizza company his grandfather built, he was determined to keep the family legacy alive.
“Our focus as a family is how to take in a legacy business, not how we’re going to make our numbers to look good so we all get bonuses. That is a huge difference that will drive the long-term stability of the company,” Perrino says.
The longevity of Home Run Inn, Inc. can be attributed to the way Perrino and his team continue to reinvent the rules of the game. For starters, the Woodridge, Ill.-based frozen pizza producer operates from a decade-to-decade perspective instead of just a quarter-to-quarter view.
That’s how Home Run Inn has continued to be a hit with consumers for the past 64 years.
Known for its Signature- and Classic-style wholesome, all-natural, clean label pizzas, Home Run Inn pumps out nearly 100 pizzas a minute in two state-of-the-art Chicagoland facilities. To stay competitive in the regional marketplace though, Perrino has been careful not to slide in head first to tackle the latest so-called trends.
“Flatbread crusts, brick-oven pizzas - all fads,” he says. “[They’re] all ways of large retailers trying to gain larger shelf space with new ideas. I’ve seen it over and over again. It doesn’t concern me. People want value, they want wholesomeness, and that’s what we deliver.”
Home Run Inn also delivers pizzas made from scratch, which is a major point of differentiation between it and its publically held opponents.
“We start with raw dough, and we end up with a frozen pizza in a box,” Perrino says. “We make our own sausage, we cut our own cheese that comes from real milk, not dry powdered milk. We use the highest grade purée that you could use.”
It’s these wholesome ingredients that make the brand a fan favorite in its core market in the Midwest. Home Run Inn pizzas are made without hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup and are topped with all-natural meats and real cheeses and vegetables. Plus, each pizza is parbaked to trap in the taste of all-natural ingredients.
That can’t be said about many of the newfangled pizzas that have populated the freezer case during the past decade.
Take self-rising crusts, for instance.
“Most self-rising crusts are chemically leavened. Well, when you say chemically leavened, you’re talking about putting chemicals in your body,” Perrino says. “We stayed away from that urge. We’re trying to attract any consumer that is concerned about what they’re putting in their body.”
Although Home Run Inn pizzas are designed with moms and families in mind, Perrino is changing the lineup around to also target the men that have begun roaming the frozen pizza aisles. In doing so, Home Run Inn pizzas now come in color-coded boxes so shoppers can better distinguish each variety.
“This goes back to the 1950s where we used to have a white box and a yellow box, and I’d hear people say, ‘get the yellow one, get the white one,’” Perrino recalls. “The colors help identify them into what they want.”
Home Run Inn also is redesigning its box front to better showcase selling points, such as all-natural, preservative-free and no trans fat, Perrino says, in hopes of separating Home Run Inn pizzas from those pizzas that border on what some may label as junk food.
“The trend that I’m hoping to overcome is that the pizza industry over the years has been categorized as junk food,” he adds. “I think part of this is you’re seeing some of the larger players in the industry go to inferior products, adding a tremendous amount of preservatives or hydrogenated oils, and it has almost damaged the pizza industry where people view it as junk food, where you really have your dairy, your proteins, vegetables and you have your carbs all in one. The main thing that we’re concerned with is having all of those in a wholesome state and not using inferior cheeses. We’re just leveraging what we’ve done over the years.”
Additionally, Perrino is promoting its top-selling, plain cheese variety on the company’s Web site by providing consumers with different ideas as to how to customize the classic pizza.
“You have a cheese pizza and that’s about as basic as you can get,” he says. “But people can take that home, put fresh-sliced tomatoes on it, they can dress it up with other cheeses, they can doctor it up themselves.”
The Sweet Spot
It isn’t so much where Home Run Inn came from as is it is how it got to where it is today that places this regional company in a league of its own.
Perrino’s grandfather started a tavern on the South Side of Chicago, which was later named Home Run Inn after a baseball - a homer hit from an adjacent park - crashed into the window. Perrino’s father, Nick, married into the family, joined the company and in the ‘50s, created the first frozen pizza, Perrino says. At the time, Home Run Inn made five or 10 pizzas a day, which were purchased by walk-in customers or delivered to local grocers.
Now, the company operates out of two Chicago area facilities and eight Chicagoland pizzarias that offer a combination of sit-down/dine-in and carryout options. In fact, one pizzeria is the largest in the area seating close to 550 customers, Perrino says. In addition, the company can produce 175,000 6-in. pizzas, 100,000 10-in. pizzas and 120,000 12-in. ones per day.
Recently, it launched its first value brand, Nick’s, named after Perrino’s father.
“What we attempt to do is to capture every category in the pizza [section], so we have a specific style to our Home Run Inn brand,” he says. “Nick’s is basically a competitive tool to have a product that could go on sale for four for $10 or five for $10 at different times.”
The Home Run Inn team of pizzas also includes an assortment of 6-, 10- and 12-in. pizzas. The Classic lineup, for instance, comes in Cheese, Sausage, Pepperoni and Sausage and Pepperoni varieties. Meanwhile, the Signature line is made up of more premium, gourmet pizza offerings such as Sausage Supreme with Fire Roasted Vegetables, Cheese Plum Tomato, Sausage Mushroom, Meat Lovers and Margherita.
Moreover, the company’s Ultra-Thin squad includes Cheese, Sausage, Pepperoni, Sausage Pepperoni and Margherita. Each pizza is cracker-thin and comes with a crispy crust.
To expand distribution beyond the Chicago market, Perrino joined forces with Jay Williams, a former regional manager for a large pizza company, to create Power Play.
“We made the decision to go in the Chicagoland area from a warehouse-program pizza to a direct-store-delivery pizza,” Perrino says. “We started with 13 trucks. It gave us control over the aisles and we were able to put our product in more display space and make sure we’re not out of stock.”
Today, Power Play’s fleet of 53 trucks can distribute Home Run Inn, Nick’s and Gino’s East pizzas as well as items from Papa Charlie’s Italian Style Beef Co. to Chicago, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Denver and soon-to-be Minneapolis, Perrino says.
“We’re looking to create a true distribution company of local Chicago brands that will succeed in the marketplace like some of the larger publically held companies have with their direct-store-delivery system,” Perrino says. “Our focus is not how quickly we can grow. I really want to expand, I want to focus on one market at a time, make that a success, then we move to another market yet continue to build on that old market. But we try not to jump all over the country.”
The legacy of Home Run Inn is here to stay, complete with all-natural ingredients and a love for the game, which keeps this coveted pizza producer in it for the long run.