Meet Jenna and Bill, the owners of Atomic Pizza in Portland. They have been making great pizza and supporting the community at their original location for five years this coming March. Through a wonderful opportunity, they were fortunate enough to open a second shop, Atomic Pizza: Hollywood, last April.
Working in the food industry for 25+ years, Bill McCracken definitely knows how to run a kitchen and makes their dough and sauce from scratch everyday. During his career, he had always wanted to open his own restaurant. It wasn’t until he met Jenna that his goal was able to become a reality. With an extensive background in working with non-profits and community-based programs, Jenna Forzley knew how to run a business and deal with the day-to-day paperwork and loves being around people. They combined their passions and Atomic Pizza was born.
What is your company?
Atomic Pizza – Homemade hand-tossed gourmet pizza with two Portland locations.
How did you come up with the idea?
Bill has been on the food industry for 25+ years and always wanted to open his on shop. I (Jenna) was working with non-profits and teaching them the business of running afterschool programs. He knew how to run a kitchen and I knew how to run a business so we jumped in head first.
Where did you find your first customer?
We have been very fortunate that our customers have been very supportive since day one. We were careful to choose the right space in the right area, where there was a need for casual, family friendly dinning.
How did you determine your target market?
We love being the neighborhood pizza shop. Our target market is the neighborhood we are in and surrounding neighborhoods. We know that there are a lot of pizza shops and most people frequent their neighborhood shop, if they get good service and good food.
What are you currently doing to reach them?
We don’t really do conventional print advertising. We use social media, we are involved with neighborhood activities and boards, we sponsor youth leagues and we donate to local non-profits and schools and we hold several fundraisers throughout the year. It is important to support the community that supports us and in return we get mentions, word of mouth advertising and the families frequent our shop. It’s a win/win for everyone and is full circle.
How much did you start up with?
We were able to open our first shop for less than $40,000 in 2009. In 2013 we opened our second shop in part of the Hollywood Theatre building which is 3x the size and serves pizza into the theatre. This shop required a full build out for about $160,000. This was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up and it’s been a great partnership.
Did you bring on investors, get loans, or grow naturally?
We’re lucky that our shops have grown naturally. We did get loans for the build out and equipment of the second shop through Albina Opportunity Corporation (AOC).
What’s the best advice someone has given you?
The best advice I ever received was from my mom:
“Do what you love and the money will follow”
Regarding our business and menu, Bill’s advice was
“To be great at one thing, not just ok at a bunch of things.”
If you spread yourself too thin and put too many items on your menu, it’s very difficult to keep the quality and consistency of the items at the level you’d like. When we were in the planning process before we opened our first shop I was able to sit down with a friend who owns a bar and ask him and the good, the bad and the ugly. I asked him for any advice he might have. He said…
“You’re not going to have a life for at least 7 years”.
If we wanted to be successful, we’d need to work and work hard.
What are your keys to staying productive?
Like my friend said, working hard.
You have to lead by example, which means working hard and a lot.
Another key is knowing your limits, delegating things when needed and knowing when you need someone more qualified to help you. Taxes are a foreign language to me, so I leave that to the professionals.
Schedule time off. As small business owners it’s hard for us to take a break, but it’s important to keep our sanity, even if it’s one day off, it’s important to take that break.
When you started, what was one thing you wish you knew?
I wish I knew how hard service industry folks work. I have worked long hours in other positions, but the food industry never rests, you are always on your feet and keeping busy.
What resources or books do you refer to regularly?
I’m not much of a reader, I don’t have much down time and I’d rather learn from the folks that are on the ground doing the work. I talk with other small business and restaurant owners on a regular basis.
It’s important to have people to bounce things off.
One of the great benefits of working with AOC is that they have partners that assist their clients in several ways. For example, I’ve had someone review my QuickBooks to make sure everything is entered properly as well as an HR person helping me write an employee handbook. It’s been great to have them as a resource.
Has your company experienced any close calls or lucky moments?
We haven’t had any close calls, but we’ve definitely been very lucky. Our second shop in the theatre may not have happened if we weren’t lucky enough to have someone in a meeting talk to them about who we and our impact on the community. The theatre was looking for a pizza shop that understood they were a non-profit and would be a good fit. Someone told them about us and the relationship was formed.
We are in the process of purchasing a building one block from our original shop to move into. This is an amazing opportunity for us and our business as this space is much larger and still in the neighborhood we started out in and love. The owner of the building contacted us directly and said she wanted us to have the building and she was happy to “keep it in the family”. We’re actually in the middle of a Kickstarter project to help us get into the building. We have been very fortunate.
What does success mean to you?
When we first opened we had a goal to be able to sponsor a little league team. This year will be our 3rd year sponsoring a team in North Portland and our 1st year sponsoring a team in North East. To us, this is what success means.
I mean besides the whole being able to pay our bills, going from just the two of us to now having 15 employees. Having two shops and in the process of owning our own building. That’s all amazing to us, kind of unbelievable in a way. But if you ask us what our greatest accomplishment as business owners is, we’d say all the opportunities we have had to help the communities we are in, that’s how we measure our successes.
Where would you like to see your business 5 years from now?
What do we want to be when we grow up?
We’d like to be doing exactly what we’re doing, in our new building of course. We love feeding people, being the neighborhood pizza shop and being active members of our community. People keep asking us when/where we’re opening our next shop. We don’t currently have any plans to expand, but you never know what the future holds.
What do you need help with?
I’ve been fortunate to have help when needed. Like getting my QuickBooks set up in the beginning and reviewed to make sure I stay on the right path. Friends who have helped with our website, getting it set up and keeping it up to date.
Marketing is something I could always learn more about. And I am always open to learning new and different ways of doing things that people have found successful.
How can people find you online?
and our kickstarter link is http://kck.st/NbKYoB
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