- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Ledo, the square pizza that made a name for itself in Washington and Baltimore, is moving South. The company, founded 50 years ago in Adelphi is opening franchises in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.

Ledo Pizza System Inc. plans to open 11 locations in 2006, up from eight this year and seven last year, said Rob Beall, chief executive officer of Ledo and grandson of founder Bob Beall.

“It’s always measured growth, we don’t want to get nuts,” Mr. Beall said. “We could grow at twice the amount we have been.”

Instead, Mr. Beall and his brother, Jamie, the owners, choose to keep the company small to maintain personal relationships with their franchisees, even if they are outside the Washington and Baltimore area.

In the past five years, the company has sold franchise rights in Atlanta, Florida and North Carolina. The company is trying to fill in areas without Ledo locations down the East Coast.

Next year’s stores are scheduled to open in Florida and Georgia, as well as Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District. An Orlando, Fla., store is scheduled to open by the end of this year.

The Northern Virginia and Baltimore areas, Rob Beall said, have nearly all the Ledo locations they can handle.

“It’s getting tough for us. We don’t really want to impede on the success of our [existing] franchisees,” he said. “There are still some great spots — we’re always looking at leases — but it’s starting to get tight.”

The original Adelphi location is still dishing out square pizza, with the same technique and ingredients it used 50 years ago, Mr. Beall said. It was the early recipe that made Ledo famous with University of Maryland students and Washington Senators players, he said.

Ledo pizza is not tossed in the air like most pizza dough. Instead it’s rolled out by the cooks. Ledo is also famous for its pepperoni, which is sliced thicker than other pepperoni.

In the early 1980s, Ledo began selling the pizza licensing rights to restaurants in the Baltimore area, which would feature Ledo pizza alongside their dishes.

In 1989, Ledo began opening franchise stores in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

“We opened our first franchise in Prince Frederick County and slowly evolved into a regional chain,” Mr. Beall said.

Ledo Pizza System, the company that distributes the franchising rights, earned $70 million in revenue last year, Mr. Beall said. The privately-held company’s earnings have grown about 10 to 15 percent each year since 2002. Before 2002, growth was about 5 to 7 percent each year.

In comparison, national chain Domino’s Pizza, the largest in the United States after No. 1 Pizza Hut, reported revenue of $1.4 billion last year.

Mr. Beall attributes a lot of Ledo’s growth to the company’s family focus, from menus with entrees in family sizes to the emphasis on franchises’ involvement in their communities.

Because of the family focus, Ledo turns down franchise applications from large companies. They get about 50 to 100 applications each year and look for family-oriented people and businesses that want to open a store.

“We want to keep it a ‘mom-and-pop’ sort of thing,” Mr. Beall said. “We’re not going to open one in Montana with some big company.”

The company’s 75 stores are owned by about 40 people, Mr. Beall said.

Jim Robertson and Rob Rubin have owned and operated Ledo franchises since 1992. They own Ledo restaurants on River Road and Westlake Drive in Bethesda, on Rockville Pike in Rockville and on Leesburg Pike in Falls Church.

“We came in and trained from Rob [Beall] and his father and brother,” Mr. Robertson said. “We’ve grown together in so many ways. It has been a great experience and a fun franchise for me.”

Mr. Robertson said he opened a Ledo store because he loves the pizza. Sales have jumped 11 to 24 percent each year for the past five years.

To celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, the Ledo store in Westlake gave out 6,000 free pizzas on Oct. 17. The stores will have discounts and will be holding drawings through the end of this month.

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