Chocolate Pizza has been in Ryan Novak’s blood since he was a toddler. His mother used to take him in a stroller across the street from his home to the Chocolate Pizza Company store where the future owner was skilled at reaching up and finding the sample tray. At age 15, he landed his first job there as a dishwasher, telling the owner that when she wanted to retire he wanted to own the business. In 2010, at age 21 and still a senior at SU, his dream became reality.
Since then, Novak has quadrupled sales, opened stores in Ohio and North Carolina and added thousands of wholesale locations including major retailers like Hallmark, Kinney Drugs and Bass Pro Shops. In October, Novak will open a brand new 8,500-square-foot production and retail facility in his hometown of Marcellus, N.Y. The explosive growth was the result of a vision and disciplined strategy on how to transform a small town chocolate shop into an emerging national brand.
The changes started in cyberspace where Novak created a dynamic website (www.chocolatepizza.com) and a strong social media presence on Facebook (currently 18,000+ likes) and Twitter. Capitalizing on the exposure of being featured on Food Network’s hit show, Unwrapped, the company took to exhibiting at national tradeshows in Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia where the quality and uniqueness of its products made an impression with retailers.
Overhauling production meant changing from an entirely handmade process to a handcrafted balance of technology and artisan skills. Novak invested over $100,000 in specialized equipment, including a computerized stainless steel melting vat, which tempers hundreds of pounds of chocolate at a time, and an enrobing machine with a 30-foot cooling tunnel. To illustrate the impact of that automation, consider that, in the six years before Novak bought the company, it produced a total of 9,000 chocolate covered Oreos®—a number it can now produce in one day.
Creativity keeps the business vibrant. In 2010, there were three varieties of Chocolate Pizza: plain, with nuts or white with cranberries. Today, there are nearly 50 variations with a rainbow of toppings and endless custom options. Chocolate Pizza® is a blend of gourmet chocolate and homemade English toffee topped with nuts or candies and served in a genuine pizza box. Peanut Butter Wings® are rippled potato chips, covered in creamy peanut butter and dipped in rich milk or dark chocolate. Both are now protected with federally registered trademarks.
Chocolate Pizza competes in two market segments—gourmet gifts and impulse sales—but its business model also includes corporate gifts, group fundraising, wedding favors and custom orders.
People remain the heart of this business. Chocolate Pizza Company employs about two dozen people depending on the season and range from teenagers on their first job to mature professionals who enjoy the family atmosphere. The company is active in the community, sponsoring a youth baseball team and varsity football leadership awards as well as donating to countless events.
Chocolate Pizza Company—unique, delicious, impressive—and growing!