When the team at Pizza Today and Pizza Expo went through the lengthy process to determine the 2020 Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Rocky Shanower, co-owner of Park Street Pizza and a mobile wood-fired pizza truck concept named Bahler Street in Sugarcreek, Ohio, stood out from all the other submissions.
Rocky is a self-taught, first-generation restaurateur, visionary, trailblazer and college dropout who never attended a business class or culinary school. Rocky and his wife, Courtney, have set into motion not only a restaurant, but a “Philosophy of Pie” that lives by its creed and commitment to serving the “Best Pizza” to its small Ohio community. Since opening in 2003, Park Street Pizza has become a regional destination pizzeria that is known for having seasonal menus developed around locally sourced products and ingredients. His passions in business include collaborating and developing relationships with local farmers and producers, as well as team building with an emphasis on customer service. The core values for their business include service, quality and culture, which embody the following:
1. Have a servant mentality, show gratitude to every customer, be authentic, make a real connection, encourage staff members to be authentic and show your team members how much your customers mean to you, don’t just say it. Be on a first name basis with everyone who comes through the door.
2. Tell the story behind your pizza – not just quality but the why. Local partners can be your best allies. Mutual support, create one-of-a-kind menu items or products they can only get from your pizzeria.
3. Creating a positive culture. Live your mission, truly care about your team members, be vulnerable, admit fault, sacrifice for each other and care about the long-term impact of your business. Leave things better than you found them, not just the environment, but your team members, customers and community. Invest in your people. The restaurant is our home. We are a family, and we are serving our friends and family dinner every night. Treat people this way.
4. ‘Do the right thing.’ When you use this as your guidepost, it allows you to think about things in a selfless way and you almost always do the ‘right thing’.
Rocky feels service, quality product, and price are the three main focal points of building any business or restaurant. However, he also firmly believes that to build a business that feels magical and makes people want to be a part of it, you need to look closer. Beyond those initial criteria comes making an emotional connection with your guests through energy, atmosphere and purpose. These are the invisibles in a business that makes it go from average to exceptional. A restaurant can have the most amazing food, but if it lacks those other traits, customers will not be drawn back. He strongly believes that the emotional connection you build with your patrons and community far exceeds anything else you can do to become successful. He also believes that to be a successful entrepreneur you cannot undervalue any one of these things. You must create a harmonious balance and focus on all these characteristics of your business.
The pizza at Park Street doesn’t fall into a particular style, but if Rocky had to give it a name, he would affectionately call it a “Neighborhood” style pizza — because it is a style that exists only in his community.
Their dough incorporates a small amount of their signature sourdough starter, cold ferments for 24 hours, gets a second rise in the pan and is baked in a gas convection oven. It was developed in this way because those were the tools they originally had to work with. They shaped the process around achieving the desired result, so their recipe is quite non-traditional. The result is a soft, pillowy dough with a crispy edge that can stand up to heavy sauce and lots of toppings. It is dialed in to what our locals crave first and foremost, but we have found it has mass appeal to nearly everyone who comes from far and wide to try it.
I like to think that attending Pizza Expo will be one of, if not the best, investments of time and money that you’ll make. The bottom line is there’s always something new at Pizza Expo that can improve your restaurant. Remember, attending Pizza Expo is a tax-deductible working vacation. For more information on attending International Pizza Expo 2022, please visit PizzaExpo.com.
It’s all pizza and it’s all for YOU!
Group Show Director