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Franchisee buys all rights to Pasta Express

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Matt Krupa has a full plate these days.

Krupa, who owns and operates Pasta Express at 3250 E. Battlefield Road, recently purchased Pasta Express Systems Inc. from Bob Ikemeier for an undisclosed amount in a transaction handled by franchise attorney David Croessman. The deal was owner-financed, Krupa said.

With the purchase, Krupa now owns the trademarked Pasta Express name and all rights to recipes and existing franchise agreements. The Pasta Express at 1933 S. National, owned by Jay Parrino – who with Ikemeier founded Pasta Express – falls under the franchise agreement.

Krupa is a graduate of the hospitality and restaurant administration program at Southwest Missouri State University.

“I worked for Pasta Express when I was in college,” Krupa said.

He also worked at J. Parrino’s restaurant. After graduating from SMSU, he worked for Houston’s Restaurants in Phoenix.

Eventually, he came back to Springfield and he returned to Pasta Express, opening a franchise location in 1995 in the Smitty’s that used to be in Fox Grape Plaza.

“Pasta Express expanded into four Smitty’s locations, and then we had a location over at SMSU and a couple in Joplin,” Krupa said. “Albertson’s came in, and we lost our leases in all the Smitty’s stores, so I was forced to move out.”

Five years ago, he moved to the 2,000-square-foot space that now houses Pasta Express on Battlefield.

Now, the Battlefield and National locations are the only two to remain in operation, Krupa said.

“At the beginning of the year, I approached (Ikemeier). He didn’t have a location. He didn’t have anything other than the name … . He was collecting royalties from the two locations, and I said, ‘Listen, if you’re not going to do anything with the concept, I’d like to buy the concept,’” Krupa said.

He’d also like to take the business to the next level, he said.

Krupa has put about a three-year timeframe on developing the Pasta Express

concept to the point where he’s ready to take on new franchisees. At this point, he said, franchise fees are being determined and the franchise circular is being updated.

“Ideally, what I’d like to do first is develop a prototype here in Springfield that has the drive-through … that has the ability to do catering like we do (on Battlefield) on a carry-out scale, and in a high-traffic location, where we can do $1.2 million to $1.5 million out of that location each and every year,” Krupa said. “It’s in the very beginning stages.” Adding drive-through service to the Pasta Express concept will enable it to keep up with fast-food competitors such as Fazoli’s.

He also wants Pasta Express eateries to have more carryout availability.

“When Pasta Express started … they had taken the most popular things off the J. Parrino’s menu and turned (them) into a quick service restaurant,” Krupa said.

While the concept was cutting-edge in the beginning, Krupa said, carryout has become more popular with fine-dining restaurants.

“Now our biggest competition is going to be the big restaurants that are doing the carryout. Chili’s, Applebee’s – that’s who we need to be able to stay competitive with, and that’s what we want to do,” he said.

Krupa said he’s working closely with Parrino on the changes, and all new franchisees will have to follow guidelines that he’ll outline in the franchise plan.

Krupa will also maintain the Battlefield location, which he said did about $750,000 in sales in 2003, with about half of that coming from catering.

“Some of our most popular items are our lasagna and our pasta broccoli. Our toasted ravioli is probably one of the No. 1 sellers,” Krupa said.

“We have a 300-square-foot catering kitchen attached to our 800-square-foot regular restaurant kitchen. We have two vans. I have two full-time caterers; a full-time cook to do all my catering,” he said.

Pasta Express hasn’t had any menu changes in about a year and a half, Krupa said, so he’s working on a few. However, the changes won’t likely follow dieting trends.

“The word ‘carb-friendly’ is probably not in our language because most of our items are pasta. But we are developing some new items, some new chicken dishes that are a little more carb-friendly, but we will maintain carbs in our food,” Krupa said. “We use real cream in all of our sauces. All of our sauces are made fresh daily.”

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