Seminaras Top Pizzas With Entrepreneurship Lessons

NEW CASTLE, Pa. – For the Seminara family, the gate to opportunity doesn’t take the form of a college degree or a trade school certification.

They encourage young people to recognize the opportunities for entrepreneurship in their industry, one often either taken for granted or overlooked: the food and restaurant business.

They should know. Since 1980, the Seminaras have taken the Pizza Joe’s chain of restaurants from one store in New Castle to 48 throughout western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

And they’ve had help. Many of their stores are run by men and women who began working for them as teenagers and rose to become franchise owners themselves.

“We have multiple current owners that started out as 16-year-old employees and worked their way up and bought their own stores,” says Jessica Seminara-Tomczyk, chief operating officer of Classico Foods, which owns the Pizza Joe’s franchise.

Jessica’s father, Joe, worked his way into the pizza business after starting out in his father’s shoe repair shop. After five years, he left to run four Pizza Joe’s restaurants. It wasn’t as difficult back then, he says, because there were fewer challenges to starting a company.

More daunting challenges today, however, don’t translate into an absence of opportunities, he says.

“It’s a hard industry,” Seminara says, “but that’s why it’s important for somebody who is really interested to get involved with a person who’s doing it. So maybe the opportunities will grow from there.”

That’s something he’s often witnessed at Pizza Joe’s.

“We have owners who were 15 or 16 when they started out at Pizza Joe’s and are now almost 30 years into owning their own business, their own Pizza Joe’s,” he says.

Younger employees continue to work their way up. Brian Gallagher began learning the business at 18 when he went to work for Seminara in 2009.

“I was just in the kitchen cooking pizzas,” he says.

Gallagher worked at the pizzeria through college. Upon graduating, Seminara offered him the chance to run a new store in North Lima with the option to become the owner of the franchise. On April 1, Gallagher exercised that option.

“You can move up pretty easily through becoming a manager,” Gallagher says, “and if it’s someone looking to become an entrepreneur, they can own their own business without having to start their own brand.”

For those uninterested in becoming owners, a career in restaurant management can be equally rewarding, Seminara-Tomczyk says. “Our managers make a good living. … You go to some of these bigger chains and the managers are doing very well. They work hard and do well.”

Opportunities in the restaurant trade are often overlooked or looked down upon, says Katie Seminara-DeToro, chief marketing officer for Classico Foods.

When she left her marketing post with the Youngstown Phantoms to work in the family business, not everyone understood.

Pictured: Katie Seminara-DeToro and Jessica Seminara-Tomczyk.

“Somebody sent me a LinkedIn message,” Seminara-DeToro says, “another young professional, someone who has known me for a very long time. And it said, ‘You left the Phantoms to go to work at Pizza Joe’s? Seriously?’ ”

Her sister is familiar with such reactions.

“I have a good friend that owns multiple Subways,” Seminara-Tomczyk says, “and it’s the same thing. They’ll see someone they know at the gym and they’ll say to them, ‘You were just making sandwiches?’ ”

They hope that owners such as Gallagher can begin to change the perception of managers in the industry.

High school students and young people thinking about their career paths might be unaware of the many possibilities in the restaurant industry either, Seminara-Tomczyk says. That’s something she and her sister hope to change.

Both are involved in the Young Professionals of Lawrence County, which they say embraces all professionals, not just those who wear suits to work.

“A restaurant manager is a young professional. A welder is a young professional,” Seminara-DeToro posits.

Half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some time during their lives, says the National Restaurant Association, but in a world of broader college preparation and multiple internships, taking that after-school job at the local pizzeria isn’t seen as the opportunity it once was, Seminara-Tomczyk says. That’s a common misconception.

“You’ll learn one of the most sought after skills businesses are looking for, and that’s the ability to collaborate with anyone you work with,” she says.

She and her family see that firsthand, especially among their young employees who go on to enter careers outside the industry.

“The change you see in some of these kids from the time they start until the time they leave you,” Seminara-Tomczyk says. “It’s phenomenal.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.