Conversation with Doug Baj, RedRocks Neapolitan Bistro, Washington, DC

2013 April: Conversation RedRocks

RedRocks co-owners Doug Baj and James O’Brien

REDROCKS
NEAPOLITAN BISTRO
WASHINGTON, DC

RedRocks Neapolitan Bistro operates four locations in the Washington DC metro area and specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza. RedRocks co-owners Doug Baj and James O’Brien opened their newest location in Arlington, Virginia, on February 1. Their fourth location is scheduled to open at the end of April.

We opened our third location on February 1 in the up-and-coming Columbia Pike neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. We’re also in the final construction phase of our fourth location on H Street NE in Washington D.C., located in the Atlas neighborhood. H Street was recently named in Forbes Magazine’s list of America’s Top Hip Neighborhoods.

We weren’t planning on opening our new restaurants within three months of each other; however, the site locations and funding came together and we decided on an aggressive expansion. The challenge is switching gears between managing daily operations of our existing restaurants, while overseeing the construction and contractors. As an owner, you have to manage everything from the delivery of the wood-burning oven to selecting the size of the walk-in coolers to selecting the furniture. After the night of our grand opening in Arlington, where we were doing everything from clearing tables to placing orders, we were back on the construction site at H Street working on the placement of the A/C ductwork. It’s challenging, but in the end it’s worth it.

Growth timing — It wasn’t an exact science. We knew that the profitability of our first two restaurants gave us an opportunity to secure bank funding to expand. We had spent about a year determining the best neighborhoods to do this, and
locations that fit the parameters of our business model. When you grow, all the pieces have to come together quickly — the location, the terms of the lease and the financing. We were fortunate to have all of our criteria coalesce at both locations. We were also fortunate to secure construction loans as opposed to taking on personal investors.

The neighborhoods we chose had a lack of full-service, upscale pizza restaurants that focused on Neapolitan-style pizza. Both neighborhoods were up-and-coming, and the demographic makeups fit our business model. At our first two locations we proactively secured sites through negotiations with faltering businesses who occupied the spaces. At our new restaurants, the owners from both locations approached us and gave us their pitch to bring RedRocks to the respective neighborhoods.

Because both restaurants are located in residential neighborhoods that are home to young, progressive, working professionals, we’ve implemented an online marketing strategy with a focus on social media. In Arlington, the opening was delayed by more than a month and a half, so we had to make adjustments along the way. We updated local bloggers with our progress and placed construction photos on Facebook and Flickr. These were linked to banner ads that we placed on local neighborhood blogs.