MICHELE NORRIS, host:
With the nation's growing Latino population, many businesses are looking for ways to lure Latino customers and their money. Starting today, for the Dallas-based pizza chain called Pizza Patron, that means letting customers use dollars or pesos at their 59 restaurants in the U.S. Pizza Patron founder and president, Antonio Swad, said it's one way he can gain an advantage in the competitive pizza business.
Mr. ANTONIO SWAD (Founder and President, Pizza Patron): Our core customer, by way of where we locate our restaurants, is typically a Latino family. And even though, we're far from the border a lot of times those folks have traveled back to Mexico - particularly, over the holidays - and they've come back home to Dallas or Denver or Phoenix or L.A. and they have some pesos left over.
NORRIS: You know, since this story first appeared in the Dallas Morning News, both economists and other businesses have been weighing in on this. And some of them are scratching their heads wondering if this makes sense.
Mr. SWAD: Well, I know, it seems like there's anybody has an opinion and that's great. But we‘re in a very, very, competitive segment of the restaurant business. The pizza business is really competitive. We're a small company and we're going head to head with some of the biggest boys out there. And we're trying to out-position our competitors. That's simply just that.
NORRIS: So how do you let people know that you're accept pesos? Big sign on the window?
Mr. SWAD: Well, small sign on the window and a small countertop sign. It's very subtle and usually it's a customer that is coming in to pick up our pizza. He can remember hey, you know what, the next time I go I'm going to get that thing out and go and exchange for a pizza.
NORRIS: So there at the store, Antonio, it seems like this would present a bit of a challenge, because you need to make change. You have to figure out a - I guess a constantly changing and fluctuation exchange rate. How do you handle that?
Mr. SWAD: You know, we didn't take that approach. You know, if you look at their peso versus the U.S. dollar in the last year or so, it's fluctuated less than 10 percent. So we've taken of the rate - the exchange rate of $1 per 12 pesos and we've created a chart that we keep up by the cash register.
If you were to walk in and give us a 100-peso bill; for example, we would look on the chart and that would equal to $8.33 in U.S. currency, and that would be the amount that we would put in the register as amount tendered. As far as the cash register knows, it's a standard transaction. And your change would be given in U.S. dollars.
NORRIS: Now, I just have to ask you, you said that your studying the exchange rate for your transactions at 12 pesos to the dollar, so you do take a little bit of a cut there.
Mr. SWAD: Well, you know, the exchange rate, I think, today is around 11 to one, but when we go to convert those pesos back to U.S. dollars, we will have to pay a commission. And so, you know, we're protected a little bit there, but and this whole thing was designed to be a service to the customer.
NORRIS: So how is it going so far?
Mr. SWAD: Well, so far, it's going pretty well. We've only been doing it for a few days but it begins officially today, Monday. And hopefully we will get a nice smooth rollout. We've sent all the materials to all the stores and they've received them. And it seems to have gone real well this first weekend.
NORRIS: So how do you measure success, when you say it's going well, what does that mean? How many customers have you had coming in and using pesos instead of dollars?
Mr. SWAD: I measure success by how smooth the transaction is for a customer and if they could - if it's a service to them. And differentiates a Pizza Patron from many of our competitors, I would say that's a success.
NORRIS: Now you know, that there are those who will say that yes, you're perhaps trying to serve the needs of your customers, but maybe this is really just a publicity stunt?
Mr. SWAD: Yeah, you know, I've heard that and it's understandable that folks would say that. You know, it was done strictly with the best of intentions. And the intentions are purely there. You know, what's really sad and we've received a number of e-mails at our Web site. And I read some of those e-mails and many of them are just filled with hate.
And it's very sad, you know. I guess, maybe, I've been focusing on work, and my family and business for so long, I just didn't realize that there was that much hate out there in it. And but, you know, it doesn't have any…
NORRIS: What are people saying? Are you taking some guff from…
Mr. SWAD: Oh sure. Yeah. I think people are linking it to patriotism. People are linking taking pesos for a hot pizza to illegal immigration, which is, as you know, is a very hot topic. It sits on the top of mind on folks right now. And it's really nothing of the sort. It's an opportunity to practice business in the most competitive way that we know in a very competitive business. And it's simply that.
NORRIS: Antonio Swad, it was great to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. SWAD: Thank you. It's my pleasure. Thank you ma'am.
NORRIS: Antonio Swad is the founder and president of a Dallas-based pizza chain called Pizza Patron.