Nationwide Spotlight Interview Article - Two Cities Pizza Company
Two Cities Pizza Company
“Hospitality is turning a stranger into a valued friend.”
That is the mantra of Sean Spurlock and Zach Greves, Founders of Two Cities Pizza Company in Mason, Ohio. From childhood friends in Cincinnati, to successful small business owners – Sean and Zach are right out of the pages of an entrepreneur’s story book, complete with the happy ending.
Both children of small business owners, Sean and Zach had been friends since grade school in Cincinnati. Sean went to college in New York City and studied economics and business. Zach studied marketing and design at college in Tennessee. They talked weekly, sharing their college experiences and new ideas.
“We knew we wanted to go into business together. We had been brainstorming for a long time on a lot of business ideas, but we wanted to wait for an idea that we were passionate about.
“I loved living in New York City,” Sean reminisced. “I loved the ‘melting pot’ idea of both Chicago and NYC – they are both centers of culture and culinary. We gravitated toward pizza, because it is a quintessential American food and universally loved.”
Sean explained that “pizza is a canvas – they all have cheese, sauces, ingredients, but one pizza can be very different from another, so there is something for everyone.
“Pizza is a universally loved and inherently communal food, bringing people together to share a meal. We are an independent, community restaurant that has become a gathering place for families and friends.”
A Concept Is Branded
Sean and Zach explain that they have three pillars that make up their brand: concept, product, and hospitality.
The concept is very intertwined with the founders’ love of the two cities New York and Chicago, and with their pizza products.
“We first decided on the theme of a New York and Chicago pizza restaurant after we agreed that comparing the two styles was nearly impossible and unfair to the culinary genius of both. We did a lot of research and traveled to try and find a restaurant that served both types of pizza. We discovered this to be a small business idea that has never been executed ― a unique niche to serve both kinds of pizza, despite the super saturated market.”
In addition to the menu concept, the founders carried out their branding in the name of the business, choice of location for store number one, and in the décor. The current location in Mason, Ohio was chosen after scouting different buildings in different cities.
“It had to be the right fit. Our building is very art deco, which we picked because it was important to our concept of a ‘city-centric’ theme.”
The décor continues this theme, with a subway train for a bathroom, yellow taxi cabs outside, and newspaper stands from New York and Chicago. And the company logo incorporates an icon of two famous buildings, the Empire State Building from New York and the Willis Tower in Chicago.
Of course, product development and branding do not happen overnight. It took about four years from the time the two partners came up with the concept, developed a business plan, obtained funding, fine-tuned recipes, located the right building and, finally, signed a lease. “We were college students when we started the process. We would send drafts of logos back and forth to each other. Whenever we pitched the idea to mentors or investors or family, people were very excited.
“We created all of the graphic designs and the website ourselves because we were on such a shoestring budget. We were also the general contractors – we wanted to be intimately involved with the process, plus we didn’t have the money to pay someone else. We did a lot of learning from our mistakes, and it is amazing that we created it with so little experience, and yet it has been so well received,” said Sean.
The third tenet of their company is hospitality, and is probably the main reason behind their success to date.
The business partners explain that they focus on their staff as the route to great customer service, with an emphasis on team development, and proper training and resources for managers. At least one of the founders is on-site every night, adding their personal support to their team. They are often seen working alongside the staff, clearing tables, or introducing themselves to new customers. “We believe in an optimistic culture and workplace. We put staff first and then the customers. If you give all of your energy and support to staff, then they will care about the customers.”
“We view hospitality as a tree. If the roots are strong, the rest of the tree will be as well. Our team is the root system, so Sean and I pour into them and expect each of them to care for the next. A guest experiencing genuine hospitality and a true five-star experience is only made possible if the tree grows healthy,” says Zach.
Marketing and Beyond
Social media has played a role in the marketing of Two Cities Pizza.
“We launched our social media campaign about one month prior to opening. We waited on purpose. It was our first restaurant, and we wanted the opening to go smoothly. We purposely planned a slow build so that we would have perfect service, and then those few customers could spread the word. The story of Two Cities is really one of organic word-of-mouth. We were slammed right from the beginning, but the reviews were positive and word of mouth built a strong reputation.”
Reviews across all online platforms have been positive, with customers coming from over an hour away. The business also utilizes Facebook, and appears on area community boards. Two Cities Pizza does differ from many other small businesses in one regard. “We have not done ANY paid advertising on social media; no coupons or discounts either. We DO respond to every review, bad or good. We believe in consistent communication with our customers; that shows that we care.”
The founders do have one permanent promotion that emphasizes their customer-care focus. “When a first-time guest comes into the restaurant, the wait staff advises the manager and owner on-site. We want to get to know, and thank, all of our guests. As an owner, you feel like you are sharing a bit of yourself with every customer that comes in, so it makes it a more emotional experience for us.”
Some of Two Cities Pizza Company’s marketing is done through merchandising. Logo items such as hats, hoodies, and glasses are sold in the restaurant.
Like most small business owners, the founders are always thinking about the future. Still, Two Cities Pizza is a young company, having only been incorporated in 2015, and opened in October of 2016.
“We have growth plans for the future but we are taking it slow. As business partners and lifelong friends, every decision is made as a joint decision. This means we have the ability to combine strengths and perspectives. It also means we are developing an identity as a company that is far stronger than either of us could have created alone. We take our time making the right decision, but we are both excited about the future for our growing company,” said Zach.
Advice for Other Young Entrepreneurs
When asked what advice they would give to other young entrepreneurs, the young founders observed that what worked for them may not be universal, but the most important thing was not to limit yourself. “First, don’t think anything is impossible; and second, prioritize people.”
Sean and Zach epitomize their own advice in what they have accomplished and their focus on their team and guests. They caution other young entrepreneurs to make sure they establish a work/life balance, a struggle for every entrepreneur. “It’s our baby. We have separation anxiety when we aren’t here,” they explain, in discussing their long hours at the restaurant.
But in the end, it is all worth it.
“A lot of who we are, we put into this company. Our whole heart is behind it.” The customers of Two Cities Pizza Company would probably agree.