In 1997, Tony Palombino started Louisville, Ky.-based Tony Boombozz Pizza, which evolved into Boombozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse, an 11-unit franchised chain. Before, after and during the life of Boombozz, he created multiple concepts: some solid and sellable; others were less stellar but taught him good lessons.
You’ve created 10 other concepts other than Boombozz. Some you sold or closed, some you sold and they’re still thriving. Talk about a few of them.
Thatsa Wrap (wraps) was my very first concept that actually received a lot of attention from seasoned investors in the restaurant industry. I took on partners to grow it, but it didn’t work out. Not everyone was aligned with the vision of the company. So, I got bought out, but they grew it to eight locations before it failed. The lesson from that is, in a partnership, everyone has to be aligned with one vision for the company.
Bazo’s Fish Tacos had one location that I sold, and I think there were two more opened. Boombozz was growing, and I sold Bazo’s to focus on that.
Later, I took on a group of partners in Arizona to start AP Crafters (a craft-beer-centric casual spot) in Louisville and grow Boombozz there. That partnership didn’t work out either, so I bought the company back and closed AP Crafters. I call those the lost years because it really slowed down our growth.
What derailed those partnerships?
Some partnerships work and some don’t. If they don’t, I move on. I tend to take the high road. I’m built that way.
Do you have many partners now?
I still have partners in several ventures, long-term partners, in fact, so obviously it works. Sometimes you just don’t get it right, and it’s important to remember it’s not always them. I’ve not had bad partners or dealt with bad people; the business relationship just went bad. The truth is I had to learn some things as I got older and wiser. I think that’s pretty normal.
Joella’s Hot Chicken, which you opened in 2017, took off like a rocket.
That was definitely on trend. I was adamant about being first to market with the concept in Louisville, which is a great lesson: be the first if you can. I also had a talented initial team. (Operating partner) Bruce Rosenblatt and I aligned perfectly, and my wife, Judy, was heavily involved with the business. Even my oldest kids, Enzo and Sienna, were involved.
How long did you own it?
We opened five units in 18 months and sold it.
You’ve said some have criticized your opening of so many concepts that you didn’t grow. How do you respond to that?
I’ve been around so many restaurateurs who do multiple concepts, and some work for them while some don’t. So they get criticized for being a creative guy, yet people don’t understand that we need the creative guys out there. There are architects, and there are builders, and you need both. Sometimes most successful partnerships are made up of an architect and a builder.
It’s interesting to hear potential investors say, “We hear you’re a creative guy,” as if that’s something bad. Eventually I felt I had to defend myself and say, “Yes, I am. That’s who I am.”
Don’t apologize for being an individual who’s creative and will try new things. I’ve had the most amazing experiences doing that. I’ve also had some hardships that made me who I am and made the company what it is today.
So, don’t be afraid to try 10 different things to get two of them to work. And do those when you’re young; don’t wait until you’re old! The older you get, the tougher it gets.