The PJW Restaurant Group has added several concepts to its repertoire, and further growth is in its future. Yet, the company hasn’t lost its neighborhood spirit, says Chief Operating Officer Jim Fris.
How would you describe the PJW Restaurant Group in a few words?
We’re a family business. The PJW Group is driven by our main brand, P.J. Whelihan’s Pub, which has 16 locations. It’s a neighborhood place, a great hangout to eat, drink and watch the game. We have a secondary concept called The Pour House, which does craft beer and burgers. Then there’s our popular pizza place, Treno Pizza Bar, and our high-end steakhouse, The ChopHouse.
How did the restaurant group come together?
The original P.J. Whelihan’s opened in 1993. The owner of our company, Bob Platzer, founded the first restaurant and worked hard along with his wife, Donna, for 10 years before they could raise enough money to buy a second restaurant in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Then he moved back to his hometown in New Jersey, and that’s when the company really started to get going. By 2004 we had seven restaurants. In 2010, we began opening at least one every year. It’s been a long time—35 years in business—and we have never closed a restaurant.
What do you think has contributed to that longevity?
We’ve always become part of the neighborhood. That’s what we do really well. We make ourselves available to customers—not just to dine, but to be part of the community. We help out. We’re a philanthropic organization, working with a lot of the local schools to help them raise money. That’s what it’s all about for us.
What are some of the signature menu items at PJW’s concepts?
Our menus are very focused. P.J.’s is driven by wings. We sell over 12 million wings a year. If you ask somebody the one word they associate with P.J.’s, they’re going to tell you wings. At The Pour House, it’s craft beer and burgers. At Treno, pizza. The ChopHouse, steak.
What items do you typically source from Sysco?
We source almost 95 percent of our products from Sysco. At P.J.’s and Pour House, almost everything comes from Sysco.
How has Sysco been a partner in your success?
We work very closely with Sysco. Their base here is 15 minutes from our corporate headquarters. I’ve known Bill Tubb, the president at Sysco Philadelphia, for more than 25 years. They’re a fantastic partner. They help us in every way possible, from working with their culinary group to helping us source items. The word “partner” gets tossed around a lot, but we have a great opportunity with Sysco. We’re a large restaurant group, a $100 million company. The local Sysco VP of Merchandising comes here once a quarter to sit with us and talk about new items and how we can source them. Last year we all went down to the poultry processing plant together. We were looking at changing chicken suppliers, and they took us with them because it was a major change. The quality starts with the president of the company and works right down to the driver dropping the food off. Everybody at Sysco makes our life easy.
What’s next for PJW?
Right now P.J.’s Pub is our growth vehicle, so we’re planning to open three more a year. We’ve got more concepts coming, including a taqueria concept called Central Taco, so we are branching out again in a completely new direction.