Primanti Bros

CEO Adam Golomb on How Restaurant Chain Primanti Bros Is Evolving

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Pittsburgh native Adam Golomb has fond memories of going to Primanti Bros., as a kid with his dad. Today, he’s the CEO of the fast-food chain that started out as a humble food cart in 1933, serving meat and fried potato sandwiches to blue-collar workers during the Great Depression. 

The company’s history gets murky after that, and even Golomb admits Primanti Bros.’s origins are rooted somewhere between reality and myth. “No one really knows the truth,” he said. “There’s lots of stories. The oldest picture [of the first location] is in the Strip District.”

At some point in the 1970’s, Primanti Bros. went out of business. The original location was sold, and the brand is now owned by private equity firms and other investors, of which Golomb is one. He was hired by the company nearly five years ago as its CMO, moved up to president, and this past January was named CEO. 

Primanti Bros. has 41 locations across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland, with three more to open by year’s end. Golomb and his team are deep in planning for summer events to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Primanti Bros. 

What is the main item on the menu? 

Adam Golomb:  The hero item is this sandwich which is your choice of deli meat that’s heated up on the grill with cheese, topped with coleslaw, French fries, and tomatoes and then put between fresh-baked Italian bread that we use local bakeries to bake for us. The coleslaw is made fresh to order. We hand cut potatoes for French fries. We slice the meat daily. There’s also pizza, wings, salads, burgers, and other sandwiches and appetizers and dessert.

What is so Pittsburgh about Primanti Bros.?

AG: It’s part of the fabric of the city because it’s been here for so long. People think of us when they think of the Steelers and think of coming to Pittsburgh, but we’ve been able to grow the brand very strong outside of Pittsburgh. 

Can you describe how you have done that? 

AG: We’ve been able to find markets where people are aware of the brand or have a love for the brand. We embrace markets locally. We embrace the sports teams that they’re fans of so we’re in Maryland, and we embrace the Ravens. We’re up in Erie, Pa., and we’ve praised the Bills and the Steelers. And then we offer tremendous value. We offer this kind of shocking amount of value: $1.99 pizza slices. We do a half-price happy hour every day of the week. We keep our pricing pretty low. From that standpoint we’ve been really successful growing the brand outside Pittsburgh. Wings, pizza, burgers, and other sandwiches, are also on the menu. 

Do you ever see the brand expanding into places like California or Oregon?

AG: I don’t. We want to be a super-regional brand. I don’t see us being a national brand anytime soon. 

Why do so many celebrities seem to know about Primanti Brothers?

AG: I think there’s people that are tied to Pittsburgh. And then there are people that go to a Steelers game or experienced the brand through a friend and just had this love for the brand. 

Who are some of the famous people who have come through?

AG: They all come through Pittsburgh. We just had Joe Biden stop in our restaurant. We’ve had Hillary Clinton. We’ve had Jimmy Fallon. The Food Network personalities, professional athletes. Joe Manganiello is from Pittsburgh and was in with his wife Sofia Vergara. I was pretty impressed when I started with the brand. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I knew about Primanti Bros. But then we started seeing the celebrity ties. With the president we got a couple hours notice, but a lot of times celebrities just show up.

Which technologies does Primanti Bros. use to manage all its multilocation marketing? 

AG: We use Soci for multilocation listings and restaurant-review management. We use Paytronix for loyalty and CRM. Those are the two big ones that would have the biggest touch. We have a loyalty program and constantly mine that data to drive behavioral change to give people offers that make sense to them. 

What is your strategy to scale into different markets? 

AG: We look for markets where we have brand recognition, and then we try to build 30 to 45 minutes from an existing location, so it’s easy to scale the supply chain. Then we really embrace the local community–the high school and the middle school and the church. That’s really the most important thing. 

Do you have any plans to take the company public? 

AG: No, not at this time. 

How long has that slogan been “almost famous?” 

AG: It’s before my time. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek. The brand is famous, but jokingly we say “almost famous” as a kind of humbleness. Who came up with that slogan? I don’t exactly know. 

Which media channels does Primanti Brothers spend the most to advertise on? 

AG: Pretty much all digital. We use traditional advertising, billboards, and radio when we’re having a grand opening in a market. Other than that, it’s pretty much all digital, mobile, social. 

You were the CMO before becoming CEO. What are some important factors brand marketers should know about scaling a consumer-facing business with multiple locations? 

AG: Expand smart. Don’t go into areas where you don’t have brand recognition. Bring the team with you if at all possible. Bring the [brand] culture with you. Build the brand at the grassroots level. Connect locally with schools and churches and community groups. We’re not sponsors of big major-league baseball teams, we’re sponsors of the Little League team. 

What is the most Pittsburgh thing about you? 

AG: I bleed black and gold. I’m a diehard Steelers fan.

Kathleen Sampey