NY to FL: Logging My Journey to Open a Pizzeria

2/2/10 - The Beginning

I figured there’d be no better way to start my quest to become a pizzeria owner then to create a log of my journey. I’ll start off by giving my background.

My name is Chris. I’m 23 years old and currently reside near the outskirts of Bradenton, FL. I moved here from Stormville, NY (about 60 miles north of NYC) in August of 09’. My parents had a vacation/retirement home built here in late 08’ and I jumped on the opportunity to move in with my fiance. The situation is perfect. We pay them a small amount for rent, which helps us save on our fixed expenses, and they get a steady stream of income on the home, along with still having a place they can still come and visit.

Back to pizza. I have been in the pizza business since I was 17 years old. I began as a delivery guy, migrated to the kitchen and worked my way up front making pizzas. Pizza was originally a part time job as I attended school. I recently graduated SUNY New Paltz in May 09’ with a Bachelor’s in Finance and a Bachelor’s in Accounting. The owner of the pizzeria in NY, Danny’s Pizza, moved down to the same area of FL in the summer of 08’. In October of 08’, he opened up

D. Americo’s Pizzeria

D. Americo’s is located in Bradenton, FL off of I75 exit 220. Because I’ve worked for the owner for so many years, from NY all the way to FL, we’ve become good friends. He will be a big help for me in this process. I ask him countless questions about the pizza business daily. He’s been doing this business since the 80’s, makes an incredible pizza, and has basically laid the blueprint for how to succeed in this business. His knowledge and help will be indispensable throughout this entire process.

When I moved down to FL in August 09’, I got right back to work in the pizza business while I began job hunting in the accounting/finance field. I found a full time staff accounting job the following month and continued to work 15-25 hours a week at the pizzeria part time.

About a month into my job as the staff accountant I realized it wasn’t for me. I enjoyed leaving work even though I was heading to job #2, the pizzeria. My fiance was also job searching at the time in the same field, accounting/finance (college sweethearts). To make a long story short, despite everyone saying it’d be impossible to pull off, I was able to slide her into my position as staff accountant and then work full time at the pizzeria. She loves the accounting position (crazy, eh?) and I’m loving the full time pizza guy gig. We each have a full time job and have minimal expenses, so the money is great right now. I spoke extensively with my parents about my decisions and took a good month before I decided to put my plan into effect on getting my fiance into my position and me getting back into pizza. I explained to them my ultimate goal of owning my own pizzeria. Fortunately, my parents have done well for themselves financially, so they’re willing to help me out with acquiring a loan to avoid the years of work I’d have to put in myself to save up the money. They won’t simply be buying me a pizzeria, but we’ll be able to use their assets as collateral to acquire a loan. It will then be my responsibility to pay off this loan. What an opportunity to open up a pizzeria as a 23-24 year old instead of having to wait till my mid 30s. I can’t pass it up!

My goal is to open up a pizzeria very similar to the ones I’ve worked in. I’ll be serving thin crust, brick oven pizza. The pizzeria will revolve around our pizzas. I’d say 75% of the business will come from the pizza/rolls/calzones up front, and the other 25% will be the basic dinners/sandwiches/appetizers/desserts from the kitchen from the back. We’ve actually had a real cook with us at D. Americo’s these past few months, so I’ve been learning a few dinner’s beyond the basic chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, meatball parmigiana, etc. Things like penne ala vodka and chicken francaise. There will be seating for dine in, but I’d say the bulk of the business will be takeout. My guess is 70% takeout, 20% dine in, 10% delivery.

So here’s where I stand now. One of the toughest, if not the toughest parts in beginning in this business, the “initial outlay” is taken care of. If I start from scratch and go into a completely empty building, I’m projecting the startup costs could be in the 150k-200k range. I’m in no hurry to do this. I’m projecting this entire project to take 12-18 months. I understand the pizza business very well, and I’m continuing with my due diligence to learn as much as I can. I’m currently in the location research phase. Here are a few web pages I’ve used to help with this:

http://www2.dot.state.fl.us/FloridaTraf … iewer.html - (this shows traffic density on FL roads)
http://www.city-data.com/city/Florida.html - (this gives a rough idea on demographics of certain cities)

Location is key and I will certainly not make the mistake of putting my first pizzeria in a place that is destined to fail. Pizzerias are now all over the place down here. Fortunately, most of them are a pathetic excuse for pizza. I know my product will be good, so with the right location, I have no worries that things will work out.

My goal is to continually post updates, post pictures, ask plenty of questions, and get feedback from fellow forum members. My hopes are that with my years of experience forged with my education in business, I’ll be successful in my goal to open up a pizzeria. Hopefully this log will allow me to receive input from others, potentially limiting my mistakes along the way.

Below is a picture of the area which I will be conducting my search for a pizzeria. Since my living arrangements are optimal at this point and will not be changing for the foreseeable future, I’ve set the boundaries to basically limit any commute to < 40 minutes.

Anyone know the area? Here’s some basic stuff I’ve gathered through my preliminary research:

  • The only areas that don’t have real pizzerias are Palmetto and Sun City. The competition in these two areas would be virtually non existent. Unfortunately, the demographics do not comply.

  • Exit 240, Sun City, is one of Florida’s top retirement communities. Older people (median age of 75) tend to choose low price before high quality.

  • Palmetto is also free and clear of legitimate pizzerias, but the lower average income has me scared. Why choose
    good pizza that might cost $12 for a large pie when you can go to CiCi’s or Hungry Howie’s all you can eat buffets for $5.99?

  • Then there’s Ellenton, Bradenton and Sarasota, all littered with tons of pizza places. Fortunately, most of them are either just okay or plain terrible.

I live off exit 224 which is Ellenton(east)/Palmetto(west). Ellenton has way too many pizzerias to even consider opening one. Regardless of quality, I’d rather not have to start up competing with 6-7 pizzerias only 2-3 miles down the road.

Next is exit 220, SR 64. This is the location of D. Americo’s so for friendly reasons, this general vicinity is off limits.

Exit 217, SR 70, is the next exit south and seems to have some promise. There are only a couple non chain pizzerias within 2-3 miles of the highway. I’ve been in talks with a leasing agent that handles a few of the plazas and one of their locations right off the highway seem to have potential.

Today I checked out Exit 213 which is University Pkwy. Supposedly this is currently one of FL most booming spots for business. I spoke to a leasing agent about an incredible location. Obviously, it was way too good to be true. Looking in the range of $50/sq ft. I plan on paying < $25/sq ft. This was University Parkway’s premiere plaza with all big time stores, so even if I did have the money to shell out for rent, they’d probably be unlikely to allow a startup in that mall.

Tomorrow I plan on checking out Frutiville Road and Bee Ridge Road of Sarasota. Hopefully within the next few days I’ll post some pictures and give a more detailed account of my searches to find a spot for a pizzeria.

Your parents are giving you $200,000 to open the pizzeria? That’s incredible. :shock:

Well they’re certainly not just giving me $200,000. They’ll be helping me acquire a loan. We’re currently sorting through the logistics of this. Whether or not the loan will be in my parents name and I’ll just be making the payments, or if I can get it in my name with them cosigning, I’ll certainly need their help either way.

But no matter how you slice it (no pun intended), I need their help, and I’m in an incredible situation knowing I have their support. This is a once in a lifetime type of opportunity I can’t pass up.

If you had an interest in St. Pete. I know a guy that owns a building that previously housed a successful pizzeria. It was becoming available a few weeks ago and I could get you his info if you had an interest.

most of them are a pathetic excuse for pizza

chuckles…

and I suppose the #2 Pizza chain in the world is also a “pathetic excuse for pizza…”

Some of the most successful pizza (food) businesses I’ve seen operated from an ugly hole in the wall location. $$$$$$$$$$$'s are what they specialized in making, and lots of 'em! When I look at the pic you posted, all I really see is a boatload of $$s tied-up in ‘pretty.’ I’m amazed at your attitude, especially from someone who hasn’t paid for or earned anything. Simply riding the coattails of successful parents. I hope your ‘backers’ are smart enough to take a majority equity stake in your start-up so they at least have some recourse when the venture fails from negative cash flow.

It’s a bit outside my pre set range, but if the opportunity was perfect I’d certainly consider it.

I personally cannot stand the taste of chain pizza including pizza hut, dominoes, papa john, ci ci’s, etc. I never said they couldn’t be potentially good investments. This is what I project to be my career, so i’d like to be proud of my product. I enjoy the atmosphere of the small business pizzeria. If money was the only factor, I am well endowed, maybe I can get into porn?

And it’s usually not wise to jump to conclusions on one picture, especially one of the outside of the business. The guy that opened the place is 40+ and has been doing this since his early 20’s. He’s run two other successful pizzeria’s in the past and has relocated to FL because he now had the money to. With his experience, he has a pretty good idea of where the money needs to be spent on a business. Sure, he could have opened a hole in the wall business, but in this area in FL, that would cause some issues. Businesses are a bit more expensive here. It’s a touristy area. The buildings are all new. The area is booming. There are tons of pizza places, all in new buildings. Do you want the characteristic that separates you to be “that hole in the wall pizzeria”? I’m young, and I’ve only been part of the business for 6-7 years, but I’m not naive. He was able to get away with the hole in the wall buildings his last two places, but that’s not going to work this time around. And even if somehow he could pull it off, he’s successful in his 40’s. Why not have a nicer place that’s more comfortable to spend those 14 hour days in? I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to line the walls with HDTVs, buy brand new state of the art equipment, etc. etc. He hasn’t done this, but that’s his prerogative. If he’d prefer to enjoy his time at work more and make a little less because of his “lavish” spending, that would be his right. That’s certainly not the case, but he’s earned the right to do that.

I’m just confused in general about your post. Your amazed at what attitude? All I’m trying to say is I’m not a fan of chain pizza. A lot of small business pizza down here in FL is pretty lousy in my opinion too.

I’ve saved plenty of money myself over the past couple years and will be able to contribute, so I have “earned” something and will be “paying” for something. I have a pretty good financial understanding of how the business works. Not that college means much, but I do have a degree in accounting and in finance which will certainly come into play in helping me to lower costs. I just don’t get why you have this general attitude that I’m an undeserving punk who has no idea what he’s doing and plans on spending every penny he can on frivolous items. I guess to each his own. It certainly wasn’t my goal to come on here and impress everyone. I’m on here to share my story and to hopefully gain some constructive criticism along the way. There are people with a wealth of knowledge on here, so it’s my job as a prospective business owner to acquire as much of it as I can along the way.

I’m incredibly thankful to have this opportunity as I’ve mentioned. If it wasn’t for some financial support, I’m sure I’d be 5-6 years away from this. It’s incredible to be able to start something like this in my early-mid 20’s as opposed to my 30’s, and I’m very thankful for that. Sorry that this whole situation has hit such a nerve with you.

Pizza 2007. Where are you located?

This post is not meant to offend FL residents and business owners, but here is my feeling on FL from being a resident for 7 years, and still visiting relatives annually.

How long have you lived in Florida now? And how familiar are you with the east side of Bradenton, and the city of Palmetto?

Those would be my very last choices for any business from the feeling I got in those area’s.

Just be careful in FL, it seems every crook & shyster from the entire country migrates to FL to continue there scheming and dirty dealing in that state. For the most part the quality of workmanship is horrible and nobody cares.

I visit once a year to see my mother, and each time I go, the brand new business I saw on my last visit seems to be boarded up and closed. Things just do not last long down there. And I can honestly say that I have never had a good pizza in FL. is it the water? is it the humidity? is it the flour being ruined by the weather? or is it fly-by-night operators only looking for quick buck in a rip-off scheme? I do not know!

NYFLPizza,

I’m positive your parents are very proud of you and your ambition. My post was “1” perception, and there are many others. This pizza business stuff is HARD WORK! Ahhh, food business and restaurants in general are HARD WORK! Part of my reply was meant to see if you’re aware of how other people could and will perceive you. How do you handle that? Are you an ‘only’ child? What ‘IF’ you didn’t have a ‘backer?’ How would that affect your planning? You spent four years working on a degree in a field that you decided you don’t want a career in… Hmmmm…

I wish you the very best in your endeavors, just be aware, that everyone will not see you as your parents do.

Well you certainly talk a lot…

But remember just cause you have backing doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. You seem to have the financial side figured out (being an accountant and all), now how about the general operation of it? Marketing? What are you going to do to get people in the door and get them to come back? What about staff, do you know how to find quality people and train them efficiently and properly? Recipes? Prep and procedures? Are you (and your fiancee) prepared for you to work 90+ hours a week for $0 pay? I could go on and on.

Owning a pizzeria isn’t all that glorious as it seems, especially the first couple years. Plus, you’ll be surprised how fast you blow through that 200k… And thats when the pressure really kicks in and you and your family start having serious disagreements and problems.

I am going to disagree with pizza 2007 on this. Coming from Money does not make you lazy, just as being poor does not make you a hard worker. I was given a opportunity to open my own shop with family money. I worked my ass off, took advice from everyone I could, and with luck and that work, it made money from day one. I just opened my second store with money made from the first one. My point is, I would have never gotten a bank loan. I was able to spend all my time in the shop. I would imagine running a shop without any income is a lot easier for a 23 year old, than running shop and a family without any income for a 35 year old. The reason I asked where you are located at Pizza2007 is because holes in the wall do not work in surburban america. The only way they work is if they have been there forever. If you open a hole in the wall around chain restaurants, you will just be seen as a dumpy restaurant

aj,

I didn’t say he was lazy. My example of ‘hole in the wall’ was that a money maker isn’t necessarily the newest building or prettiest building on the corner. I didn’t attack his successful mentor, obviously that guy has made his way.

I’m not looking to find something that works in ‘suburban’ America. I’m looking to find something that makes money.

I’m not saying that using family money is a bad thing, I just hope his family is wise about it. Everyone’s not like you AJ. I’m glad it worked out and you’ve opened your 2nd store with earnings from the first.

This kid spent 4 years on a degree he doesn’t want to work with, how long before he decides he’s ‘better’ than pizza work?.. anyhoooo, just making a comment. Life’s like that.

A lot of kids spend 4 years getting a degree they don’t end up using. Tis “kid” gets props for finishing school and more props for having the nads to persue his dream. Most 18 year olds have no idea what they want to do and college is a great place to spend 4 years and start figuring things out. It also shows that he has what it takes to finish what he started.

You forgot option D, all of the above, haha. We’ve been using a water filtration system at D. Americo’s and the pizzas are coming out very similar to NY. We also use Semolina with our flour on our dough prep table. This seems to help with humidity issues. All in all, the pizzas are very very similar to what we made back in NY. I actually like them better, but that’s just me.

There are certainly some very shady areas down here. I live in a nice town called Parrish outside of Ellenton. But if I travel down 301 past 75 you’ll hit Palmetto, a very low income low class, high crime area. Crime rates in certain parts around here are unusually high. There are definitely some new booming areas, and things are changing, but they’re all factors that needs to be considered.

It’s not that the accounting gig isn’t for me. I appreciate the responses, but I guess I need to explain more about myself if I’d like to avoid these comments. Then again, I tend to ramble and do type quickly, so I can go on and on and probably just annoy people.

Anyway, the way I was brought up, not going to college wasn’t an option. I did my 4 years, got my degree and looked for a job. Because of my good grades, internships, work while in school, etc. etc. I was able to get a job rather quickly in this tough economy. Pay wasn’t great, and I quickly realized if I ever wanted to make good money, I was going to have to go into business for myself. At this point I felt I had two options. Option one was to return to school, get my masters and pass the CPA Exam, or option two was to save up for a while and go into business doing something I’ve done for a while, I enjoy, and I know I’m good at. Pizza. For many reasons, I choose the latter. I have never discussed with my parents the possibility of borrowing money, so I never considered it an option. I figured I’d just gut it out for 4-5 years, save up with my fiance and go from there.

As I’ve stated so many times, I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity that I can’t pass up.

I have a very good understanding of the operations of a pizza business. As I’ve stated, I’ve been in the business for 6-7 years now. I’ve worked the long days open to close, doing the majority of work it takes to maintain the business in the owner’s absence, contacting vendors, managing staff, etc. I know our recipes for sauce, dough, etc. so that’s not a concern. I have a general understanding of marketing, but certainly do lack experience there.

I’m certainly prepared to put in the 12-14 hour days 7 days. I know this isn’t a glamorous job. This is a business I’ve been part of for quite some time, and something I plan on doing as my career.

I know that 200k can blow by fast. I’m astounded by the people that come on here planning to open up their own pizzeria for < 50k. Maybe the right circumstances, things like that can work. I plan on being very frugal with my money. My life experience is obviously limited, but I know I have what it takes to get this done.

I took a trip to Sarasota today. Later I’ll be logging about what I’ve discovered.

Well, you have more experience in the culinary industry than most people do that try to open a restaurant.I have a few decdes under my belt (literally) and it still scares me with knowing what I know.

Keep this next statement in the back of your mind;

Q; What is the easiest way to make a small fortune in the restaurant industry??
A; Start with a large fortune!!

Put your business plan together, and spend particular attention to the competition and the “SWOT” parts and when you get done with that, it should give you enough information needed to decide if a pizza shop is right for that area.

I like the idea of a water filtration system, even with a municipal water supply due to the sulfer content of FL’s water.
But I would be very concerned about the lack of dissolved solids in the water after it is filtered. There are key minerals that play a very large part in how well your dough recipe works for you.

When I lived down there, I remeber most every pizza place being owned by people with a Greek heritage, and the product they offered reflected that Greek heritage very much.
I found thick gooey doughs dripping with oil, a pre-cooked sausage being used, and vegetable that were cooked before being added to the pie. All in all I found it mostly a greasy doughy mess lacking on key flavors I was fond of, but overpowered with Oregano.
Then you had the chain places like Hungry Harry’s, pizza-hut, Dominoes Etc Etc which are all very similar, and then the others that use pre-made crusts and pre-cooked meats that are not fit for shark chum.

I plan to be down in Ruskin, Bradenton, Sarasota in the next 6-8 weeks, I do not expect to find anything different than I had described.

Again, no offense to FL business owners, but I just do not see FL as a mecca of good pizza, I’ll stick with the seafood and BBQ places when I am down there.

I’ve got to say that for a ‘newbie’ to the board and to setting up in businesses you appear to have more going for you than most of the people who come on this board asking if it is possible to set up for $50k. You’ve worked in the industry (that’s what we normally suggest), you have backup money (good) and assets to get the cash (great) and lastly you seem to be excited and thoughtful at the same time. So, I’m a little surprised at the hard time your getting.

A few comments:

  1. Having family money (either as cash or asset backing) can have its problems; the family may believe they own the business and want to have their own say (we’ve had a few good examples of how that simply doesn’t work). Make sure you are clear up front (and if you can write it down) what roles people do and don’t play. Make sure you discuss what happens if it goes wrong as well as it going right.

  2. You clearly understand demographics but make sure the location and area are right for business rather just finding the best of worst. A lot easier to decided to driver another 20 minutes now than have the shop in the wrong place.

  3. Don’t plan on spending all $200k just because you can. If you can do it for $100k its a lot easier (and maybe gioves you the $100k for store 2?).

Good luck!

Wiz

Florida is certainly far from the “mecca of good pizza”. This is what creates such opportunity! I can say from experience that the filtration system works very well. We have two differences from NY’s dough to FL’s dough. The water filtration system, and the yeast. We now use dry yeast instead. The dough is wonderful, which is KEY to our hand tossed pies.

If you’re going to be in the area in the next 6-8 weeks, check out D. Americo’s pizzeria for some of the best pizza in the area. It’s off of I-75, exit 220 heading west. It’ll be on the left after the first light, next to a Duncan Donuts across the street from Wal Mart. The worst part about it is it’s somewhat obscured location from the street. Things took some time to get off the ground, I think primarily because of the obscured spot, but it’s really starting to pick up, especially the busy Friday/Saturday nights.

Also, closer to Ruskin, off of exit 246 heading East on Big Bent Road on the right hand side is East Coast Pizza. The owner of that pizzeria also comes from NY and worked years under the owner of D. Americo’s pizzeria. He’s 28 now and was in the exact situation as me 5 years ago. 23 years old, parents had money, helped him open up his first place, and with some hard work and good luck, things took off. He’s the type of story you read about in the Pizza Magazines. With his own money he recently opened up a place in Lithia, FL.

I hope to follow in the same footsteps as these two guys. To be honest, I feel that I’m more prepared than even they were when they got into the business. I’ve been doing this for years, have a college education that should help handle the finances, and also have their mistakes to learn from.