Taranto’s Pizza

Lewis Center, OH

Owner: Debbie Taranto Antoun

1. How did you start out in the pizza industry?

My brother started a pizzeria about 20 years ago. I started working there and absolutely fell in love with it. The people I worked with, the customers and the great-quality food inspired me to go out on my own. My father and I consequently opened up a restaurant in Lewis Center. I’ve been in the business 12 wonderful years. We modernized our pizzeria with new conveyor ovens and started making pizza!

2. What were you doing before you went into the pizza business?

I attended The Ohio State University for a degree in communications. I also worked as an insurance consultant for an insurance company.

3. Tell us about your pizzeria and what makes it unique.

My pizzeria has involved the entire family! At the beginning, my brother Dan got all the Tarantos together, and we experimented with dough, sauces, meats, cheeses and other toppings. My mother worked hard on the dough recipe. We came up with a distinctive homemade sauce. We knew we had a high-quality pizza pie! We are also very active in the community, and we are family-oriented. My father still does the ordering and inventory. We have cousins, my brother, and my son working in the kitchen.

4. What are your most popular menu items?

Our pepperoni pizza with mushroom seems to be a fan favorite around here. We also sell a lot of stromboli, pasta, salads, and our awesome Italian sub sandwiches. We have a full range of menu items.

5. What are the pros and cons of being a woman in the industry?

Sometimes it is harder to get loans or make purchases, and it just affects overall business transactions. Also, solicitors selling items tend to try to take advantage because I’m a woman and think that I’ll buy anything. Having children and a pizzeria is also a complicated juggling act. One big pro that has helped me as a woman is my ability to be more sensitive to the desires of my customers. I also have a great relationship with my employees. I feel that being a woman brings a friendlier, easier feel to the pizzeria.

6. How do you promote your pizzeria?

We have a fabulous website where people can order online. Taranto’s Pizza also stays current with new technology, including email that reaches more than 2,000 customers in our database. Our email program focuses on current customers. We mail postcards every month, give out coupons, and insert menus in local mailings.

7. How are you involved in your community? 

I started the Orange Township Business Association. Taranto’s has networked through this association since its beginning. I also started a yearly parade, which is put on for the Fourth of July and has become very successful. We are involved in school events, helping those in need with donation drives. We are on the board of the Ohio Restaurant Association. I am also running for Orange Township trustee. All of these take time, but the benefits are worth it. You know your customers, and you impact the community.

Pizza by Elizabeths 

Greenville, DE
Owner: Betsy Leroy

1. How did you start out in the pizza industry?

My friend (and future business partner) Betty Snyder was speaking theoretically about what kind of business would do well in our area of Delaware. Since we both loved cooking, and had attended some cooking schools together, we shared recipes, and we both loved making pizza for our families. We decided to “imagine” our perfect pizza restaurant, and the next thing I knew, we decided to do it! (My partner, Betty Snyder, left the operations of the restaurant nine years ago when her husband died suddenly. She now works for a family business.)

2. Tell us about your pizzeria and what makes it unique.

We opened in 1993 using only fresh, quality ingredients. We offer more than 60 different toppings (all handmade), and suggest vintage wines with pizzas. Also, all of our pizzas are named after famous (or infamous!) Elizabeths. We were featured last year in USA Today in the “50 best pizzas in 50 states” article.

3. What are your most popular menu items?

Our most popular pizza is still the Barrett Browning, which has spicy tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. After that, it’s the Davis, which has fire-roasted peppers, blackened chicken, cheddar cheese, bacon, and a honey mustard drizzle. We were just named by Food Network Magazine as the best pizza in Delaware, and the pizza they are featuring is the Saint, a creamy Parmesan-andartichoke blend with lump crabmeat.

4. What are the pros and cons of being a woman in the pizza industry?

I don’t think there are really any cons. Most vendors treat you differently because they don’t think you know what you’re doing at first, but that assumption usually comes back to haunt them. The pros are that it’s fun! I think one of the advantages to being a woman is that we are very picky, aesthetically. We want the restaurant really clean and looking perfect at all times, and we especially make sure that the food comes out looking beautiful. Women are generally more compassionate, too, so we have had many employees longer than 15 years. We care about them as much as we do about making money.

5. How do you promote your pizzeria?

We are on Facebook, have a monthly newsletter, and do some local print ads. We still think, though, that our biggest advertisement is word of mouth. I read every email and comment card, and answer many of them.

6. Are you involved in your community?

We try to give gift certificates to every needy cause there is. We donated more than $8,000 in gift certificates alone last year! We also have specialneeds kids who do job training here twice a week, and we do a lot of charitable events in the restaurant.

7. What advice do you have for other women who are thinking of opening a pizzeria?

My advice is, always look at starting a business from a customer point of view. What would your ideal dining experience be? What could you do better than other restaurants in your area? Then, if you decide to do it, never lower your standards. Treat your employees very well, and they will do the same to you. And always make money and have fun— You need to do both!

Joseph’s Pizza

Jacksonville and Atlantic Beach, FL
Owners: Susie Bateh,
Rose Bateh, Sandra Hanania, Sabrina Bateh Kuruvilla
Interview with Susie Bateh

1. How did you start out in the pizza industry?

I was born into it! My father, Joseph, moved from California to Florida and bought into pizza when I was about 5 years old. He purchased Joseph’s Pizza, which had been established since 1956, and my father’s name just happened to be Joseph. I started working in the restaurant at a young age.

2. Tell us about your pizzeria and what makes it unique.

Almost everything is made from scratch. The pizza crust and bread is my father’s recipe from the ’50s. Olive oil, high-gluten flour, sauces made from grinding tomatoes—everything is very high-quality. My father also made a line of dressings and sauces, which we sell today. High quality and low food cost are keys to our success.

3. What are your most popular menu items?

Our special “everything” pizza: mushrooms, olives, green peppers, beef, anchovies, pepperoni, sausage, ham and onions. Our hand-rolled manicotti and homemade lasagna are also huge sellers. The Chicken Marsala is very popular. We also do some vegan dishes, including pizza, sandwiches and pasta.

4. How do you promote your pizzeria?

We promote through social networking— online ads, Twitter and Facebook—and we have radio commercials.

5. How do you get involved in your community?

We are involved with the community in a lot of ways. We love animals and support the Jacksonville Humane Society. We are involved with the No More Homeless Pets organization. We do fundraising events where we prepare and sell food for local schools.

6. What are the pros and cons of being a woman in the pizza industry?

Sometimes it seems as though some men don’t take women seriously in the industry. As far as a pro, I would say that I think women are better at managing staff and understanding their issues with empathy but being firm as a boss when needed. I think there is an emotional connection; we’re more sympathetic to the needs of the customers, staff and community.

7. Who is your main customer?

At our Jacksonville location, it is older crowds mixed in with different ages. At our Atlantic Beach pizzeria, it is usually younger college and high school students, as well as families. Tourists also frequent us here at the beach.

8. What advice do you have for other women who are thinking of opening a pizzeria?

Work in a pizzeria for at least a year. Do everything in the business to see if you like it. Develop a tight business plan. Don’t have too much debt, and have fun!

Pizzeria Lola

Minneapolis, MN
Owner: Ann Kim

1. How did you start out in the pizza industry?

I’ve always had a passion for cooking and dreamed about someday opening a restaurant of my own. I spent years daydreaming about different concepts, and since I didn’t have professional culinary experience, I knew I had to keep things simple. I ultimately decided to focus on one thing and do it better than anyone else. Our approach was simple: great pizza and great service in a fun setting. The inspiration behind the pizzeria came from spending my formative pizza eating years attending college in New York and my business partner’s time in New Haven, Connecticut—two cities known for outstanding pizza. We couldn’t find the kind of pizza we wanted to eat nearby, so we decided to create it. Once I had my focus, I researched and read several books on artisan baking and experimented with dough formulas, flours and yeast. I received intensive, hands-on training, gaining certification in American-, Neapolitan- and Sicilian style pizzas. Out of all the styles, I fell in love with cooking pizzas in a wood-fired oven, so I decided to create artisan quality wood-fired pizzas.

2. What were you doing before you went into the pizza business?

I was a freelance actor for about 10 years, performing in various theaters in Minneapolis. Prior to the pizzeria, I worked as the director of education and community engagement at Hennepin Theatre Trust in Minneapolis.

3. Tell us about your pizzeria and what makes it unique.

Everyone thought I was crazy to open a restaurant having zero experience in the field. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in chutzpah. I followed my gut instead of the rules in all elements of the restaurant, including the menu, design and philosophy. The atmosphere of the restaurant reinforces the sophisticated casualness of the menu, with an open kitchen adding  energy and vitality to the entire experience. The Le Panyol oven is one of only a handful in the United States. The woodfired oven is built from Terre Blanche clay that hails from Larnage, France. I chose the oven for its exceptional quality and superior thermal properties but also for its beauty.

4. What are your most popular menu items?

We feature wood-fired pizza characterized by thin, crispy, but chewy and slightly charred crusts—the product of a lengthy fermentation process and expert oven management. We top our artisan crusts with artisan-quality ingredients in combinations that are familiar, such as tomato, basil and mozzarella, and unfamiliar, such as LaQuercia guanciale, organic free-range eggs and leeks. Our most unique pizza is called the Lady ZaZa, which features housemade Korean sausage and kimchi. I also create specials that reflect the seasons. The growing season is short in Minnesota, so I take full advantage of the farmers markets when I can. In addition to pizzas, we offer a handful of starters, including our housemade meatballs, salads and seasonal roasted vegetables. We also offer craft beers and food-friendly wines to complete the experience.

5. What are the pros and cons of being a woman in the pizza industry?

It’s rare to find female restaurateurs, even more so in the pizza industry; it’s definitely a male-dominated field. I’m also an anomaly as a Korean-American woman running the show as owner and chef. I actually find it more challenging to garner respect from peers because of my lack of experience vs. gender. The hours are long and the work is intense; I don’t get a break because I’m a woman. Sometimes I work over 80 hours per week, but I’m living out my dream and enjoying every minute of it!

6. How do you get involved in your community?

We’ve been open for only nine months, but we already feel a strong connection to our community. We support local charitable organizations by donating gift cards from the pizzeria. Our future goal is to be even more hands-on and do things like teach community kids how to make wood-fired pizza.

7. Who is your main customer?

We are located in a residential area, so we attract neighborhood locals and families. We also attract foodies and pizza connoisseurs from the surrounding Twin Cities area, and even a handful of people from out of state and out of country. We attract young and old, families and couples. That’s the beauty of pizza— everyone loves it.

8. What advice do you have for other women thinking of investing in a pizzeria?

Running a successful restaurant is not for the faint of heart. It’s very hard work. It means being present and hands-on. When the dishwasher is sick, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do the dishes yourself. Investing in a restaurant is more about investing time, passion and energy than it is about money. In the end, do what you love and do it well.

Mike Robinson is a freelance writer based in Poland, Ohio.