2012 April: My Turn

Steve Renke of Demarest Pizzeria

Twenty five years ago, I was a senior at Northern Valley Old Tappan High School, in NJ. I was a football player, skier, and very social. I had my entire life ahead of me, the world at my feet so to speak. Unlike many of my friends, heading off to college, I had different plans.

Entrepreneurship was on my horizon. I wanted to be independent, I chose to be a Pizzaman and decided to buy a pizzeria with two other partners; I could only invest a small portion which worked out to a 25% share in the business. The timing of the purchase, in fact, required me to provide my school with a note from my attorney, so that I would have an excused absence to attend my real estate closing. It was all a blur; I worked day and night to get the store ready. Every day I went to school, and then straight to work at the pizzeria, and then right after my graduation, I was working full-time. Like many of you reading this, I’m sure you can relate, I worked constantly, I only went home to sleep, and my social life was my business. The pizzeria provided me with everything, including a few headaches at times.

Two years later, when many of my friends were finishing their sophomore year in college, I finally saved up enough money and bought out my two partners. I was now the owner of my own destiny – a pizzeria, in a small town in New Jersey, just outside of New York City. I was on my own, and it was the best feeling ever. Here, I met my wife Moira, and began to grow roots, not only with a family, but in a community where I am known as Steve, the Pizzaman. This little business that I ventured into was now catapulting me into a life that I may have never known.

Over the years, I have changed, and so has my business, as the market has demanded it. I have learned so much, sometimes the hard way. The original business plan was pizzas, and a few traditional Italian dinners, but in the 90s I saw the opportunity to capitalize on the school/education market which gave me a larger customer base. In the early 2000s my customers wanted more; they were looking for gourmet pizzas, and dinners and I gave it to them. They were also looking for healthier options and I started to offer whole wheat pasta, pizza and even gluten-free pizza. This was the way to appeal to many more, while not increasing costs.

It has not been easy, I continue to look at every invoice, compare costs, and do my best to keep my overhead down, which many times meant working more, but offering a quality product was more important to me. I have seen the market rise, and fall and recently with the economy the way it is, my customers have been affected drastically. How have I survived? I have been able to change with my customers’ needs…..and the market.

In 2009 we rebranded ourselves, from Pizza Express to Demarest Pizzeria. We now do more catering, and continue to offer quality products, and I have also been contracted by local pools and sports programs to run their concession stands. I continue to advertise in print, and utilize Social Media ~ which is great! We now have a Facebook fan page which continues to grow every day.

You may wonder if I would change anything — NOPE, if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing, just with fewer mistakes. I will continue to know all of my customers by first name, will know their children’s names, and watch them grow up, and at the same time relish in my family’s growth! My wife and I now have three beautiful children, and if I had not owned the pizzeria, I may have never met my best friend. The best advice I can give, is love what you do, and be willing to change! I love being a PIZZAMAN!