In 1997, Tony Palombino started Louisville, Ky.-based Tony Boombozz Pizza, which evolved into Boombozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse, an 11-unit franchised chain. Just as interesting are the other 10 concepts Palombino created, shuttered or sold in the 22 years since.
Boombozz has been your most successful concept overall, but for a moment, let’s talk about others you’ve created.
OK, here goes: Thatsa Wrapp, Palbino’s, Boombozz, Bazo’s Fish Tacos, Baja Grill, AP Crafters, Benny B’s, Joella’s Hot Chicken, Wood Roasted Pizza, Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen and Waylon’s Feed & Firewater.
Do you have a formula for developing a restaurant concept?
I do tons of research, whether that’s traveling the U.S. to see what’s trending, and if it’s something I think I could do better or make more appropriate to Louisville, where I’ve lived most of my life, then I start working on it.
You had a couple of single-unit pizzerias before creating Tony Boombozz. What made that one the version you believed you could grow?
I really thought there was a niche in pizza delivery for a super-premium product. The challenge was to figure out how to convey that as a value and something people wanted. Louisville was uncharted territory for that, and pretty early on, we saw that it had the legs.
Still, that meant I was going to compete against the delivery giants–including Papa John’s Pizza right in my backyard! (He laughs.) But we started anyway with a delivery-carryout unit, and it all took off from there. The concept is now a full-service restaurant.
How did you fund Boombozz?
It was self-funded. I’m very frugal, so I had some money saved up. The facility didn’t require a very large investment since it was only 600 square feet. So, opening cost me $30,000. I bartered with people where I could, like with my sign guy. I asked if he’d trade pizza for his work, and he did it for 100 percent of the cost.
How challenging was that first year in business?
Every week it was six days of working from open to close. I missed out on the early years of my first two children growing up. A lot of times, my wife, Judy, would bring them to the restaurant so we could see each other. It meant sacrifice, long hours and hard work. But that’s what I signed up for.