When Mike and Cynthia Hanley purchased Royal Pizza in 1995 it came with training wheels. The previous owners, who started the business in 1969, left them with a simple follow-the-tradition formula. In fact, Mike had to prove to the owners that he could carry on the Royal Pizza tradition before they sold it to him. Mike passed the test, purchased the restaurant and followed its successful formula with just a few modifications.
"People have been coming here for 34 years for the tradition and for the pizza." says Mike. At first, regular customers feared things would change when the Hanleys' took over. "They were afraid we were going to cut back on the cheese and toppings or change the recipes. We had to reassure them that everything was the same, we hadn't changed." A "Come home to Royal Pizza" advertising campaign stressing that "We're still the same" helped to alleviate the fear and retain regular customers.
Customers frequent Royal Pizza because they know they will get the same pizza every time. Eighty-five percent of sales come from pizza, and that's because of consistency in the generous cheese and toppings.
We put on more cheese than most people. It is not measured, it is done by the cook's eye. If it needs more, the cook will add it. On a 12-inch pizza, we put about 13-15 ounces of cheese. If someone asks for extra cheese, it is like 'How are your arteries?'"? laughs Mike.
"Our quality product does not lend itself to doing two-for-ones. If someone asks us if we have two-for-ones we say: 'Yes we do, we just put it on one pizza.'"
Location has been a major contributor to Royal Pizza's success. The restaurant is a fixture in the Strathcona community, an area of Edmonton known for its one-of-a-kind businesses. "When Royal first opened, it was one of the only restaurants around. So it developed a following. We now have second and third generations coming here. Initially, I wanted to change the decor but customers would say 'No, don't change that. I remember that mural. My wife and I were dating and we used to come here.' The only things new are the pizza-guy drawings. They let me put them up," chuckles Mike.