Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”
Our subject this week is Brozinni Pizzeria, a Greenwood pie joint patterned after pizzerias in New York. Co-owner James Cross is the connection to the Empire State, having grown up in Binghamton, N.Y., and made friends with several pizzeria owners. His partner, Indianapolis native Paul Zoellner, brings the nuts-and-bolts restaurant experience, having worked in several independent and national chain eateries before becoming a co-owner in Shallo’s Antique Restaurant & Brewhaus in Greenwood.
Cross owned a small trucking firm, Crossroads Auto Transport LLC, for about 11 years before deciding to liquidate in 2007. “The price of fuel was getting really high, so I decided it was time for me to get out of it,” 40-year-old Cross said. “The transition worked out great. I sold my last truck and trailer, and about a month later we ended up getting this spot [for Brozinni] and started building it out.”
The partners had met while Cross dated Zoellner’s sister Tracy. They manufactured the moniker "Brozinni," taking their nickname for each other, “bro,” and adding a typical Italian suffix.
Startup costs for the restaurant ran between $150,000 and $160,000, handled primarily by Cross. He shuffled over the proceeds from selling Crossroads’ assets, as well as an $80,000 commercial bank loan he had secured for the trucking business, which he continued to operate for a year by helping coordinate moves through other carriers.
“Probably the scariest thing was the food,” said Zoellner, 37. “We got everything built out, and it was a week from opening, and we were like, ‘Let’s get in the kitchen.”
Neither Cross nor Zoellner had any experience in slinging pizzas, so Cross make a pilgrimage to New York for tutelage from his restaurateur friends.
“I went back and worked with two of my buddies at two different pizza shops learning how to make dough,” Cross said. “I wrote everything down. And a few guys were like, “You have to use these kinds of tomatoes, and this is the cheese you want to use.’ I came back and we started messing around.”
Cross and Zoellner designed several pizzas with New York themes, such as the “Canal Street,” “Broadway” and “Brooklyn-Queens Expressway” (essentially, chicken ranch). The staple of Brozinni's lunch business—and prime connection to the New York pizza tradition—is the oversized slice patrons can buy a la carte. But a full menu of Italian comfort food is also available, and gets more attention in the evenings.
With a couple of major medical facilities and several office parks within a five-minute drive, business in the strip-mall location was brisk from the beginning, the partners said. In fall 2009, they added a take-out and delivery annex in a small storefront a couple of doors down, requiring an investment of about $40,000. In November 2010, they expanded the main restaurant into a contiguous space, driving seating from 60 to 150.
Both owners work on site and draw salaries from the business. They also take small distributions from the restaurant’s profits, but have been content to plow most profits back into Brozinni’s growth. After recording about $500,000 in gross sales in 2008, they're expecting well over $1 million in 2011.
"We’re bucking the system, as far as the economy goes,” said Zoellner. “We’ve been so fortunate that we’ve increased the business, but we’ve also taken the risk to increase the business.”
In the video at top, Cross and Zoellner discuss the origins of the pizzeria and how they piloted its growth. They also break down increased costs in their major staples—flour and cheese—which have resulted in minimal increases in menu prices for a handful of items.