Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ryan Novak, Owner of Chocolate Pizza Company, Inc., located in Marcellus, NY, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Chocolate Pizza Company is a family-owned small business in Central New York that creates handcrafted gourmet chocolate specialties for business and personal occasions. Our signature products are Chocolate Pizza (the highest quality Swiss-style chocolate blended with homemade English toffee and topped with candies or nuts and served in a custom pizza box) & Peanut Butter Wings (crisp, rippled potato chips covered in creamy peanut butter and drenched in chocolate). Our customers have included A-list celebrities, Hall of Fame athletes, music legends, top business and political leaders, and chocolate lovers on 6 continents. We have been featured nationally and internationally on Food Network, Discovery, Hallmark Channel, People, Forbes, and Entrepreneur magazines.
Tell us about yourself
When I was a toddler, my mom would take me in a stroller across the street to a small chocolate shop called Chocolate Pizza Company. While my mom and the owner chatted, I would reach up on the counter and grab a handful of chocolate samples. When I was 15, I got my first job washing dishes at the company. I loved being around chocolate, and I wanted to learn everything. I told the owner when she wanted to retire, I wanted to own the company, and when I turned 21, she sold it to me. It was 2010, and I was a senior at Syracuse University studying entrepreneurship. Since then, we've grown to become Central New York's largest chocolate maker. What motivates me every day is a promise I made to my mom. She died when I was nine, but I promised her I would make her proud. It is a promise I get up every morning intending to keep.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
One of my biggest accomplishments as a business owner is transforming that small-town chocolate shop I bought into an emerging national brand. When I bought the company, there were no online sales - today; our website has received orders from chocolate lovers on 6 continents. In 2010, we operated out of 1200 sqft of leased space - today, we've built a new 15,000 sqft production and retail facility. We've added critical production equipment that allows us to handle any size order, including one order recently for 31,000 Chocolate Pizzas from a major retail chain. And I have a team of talented, dedicated employees that share my vision of creating something special with Chocolate Pizza Company. They are my greatest success as a business leader.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Navigating uncertainty. Business is a game of risk by definition, so you are always evaluating finances, supply chains, economic pressures, competitive challenges, consumer reactions, regulatory changes, and so much more. There are often no clear answers or direction, so you have to go with your instincts and make educated decisions. The pandemic certainly pushed the uncertainty factor to new heights, but we made safe, practical choices that actually allowed the business to grow during that period.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
To be a successful entrepreneur today, you need to:
- Be committed to your business. Passion by itself isn't enough - passion without a plan is a hobby. Entrepreneurship literally has to be the oxygen you breathe.
- Know your numbers. You don't necessarily need a business degree to create a successful business, but that knowledge exposes you to many aspects of entrepreneurship that are critical. You need to understand the numbers that drive your business and use that information to make data-justified decisions.
- Sell your story, not your product. The biggest marketing mistake small businesses make is not realizing that THEY are the product, not the item or service they're selling. People buy from small businesses primarily because they connect to the owner or the history, or the mission of the company. That emotional bond is the source of your most effective marketing - build that connection, and they will buy into you, and that means they'll be long-term, loyal customers.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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