Tony Palombino started BoomBozz in 1998. | Courtesy of BoomBozz Pizza

When BoomBozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse first opened in 1998, it was a 600-square-foot carryout and delivery joint with 14 seats for dining in. Today, it’s a nine-location regional fixture, with new locations in Elizabethtown and Bellevue, Tenn., set to open before year’s end.

Not a bad way to celebrate a 20th birthday, but BoomBozz also has rolled out a revised menu with several new items and will play host to celebrations at four locations this coming week, Nov. 5-8, with giveaways and special deals.

Two decades ago, founder and CEO Tony Palombino only wanted to accomplish one thing when he opened his first store in St. Matthews, and that was to simply make a better delivery pizza than people were getting from the popular chain restaurants.

Craft beer became a big part of the brand starting in 2009. | Courtesy of BoomBozz

It ushered into the city a new way of looking at pizza, with specialty pies topped with unorthodox ingredients ranging from potatoes to spinach. Sure, you could get a regular pepperoni pie at BoomBozz — and still can — but the creativity made the food stand out.

The business was originally called Tony BoomBozz Pizze and Panini (yes, pizza with an “e”) and came after Palombino had been partners in a pizza place in Kansas City. He moved back to Louisville and worked for Liberty National Bank for a while, but the pizza business was calling him.

“What I felt was missing was a super-premium, quality pizza that you could deliver,” he said. “We were trying to set ourselves apart.”

“Tony literally mapped out BoomBozz on a napkin,” said Judy Palombino, Tony’s wife, adding that the thought of growing so much over the course of a 20-year run wasn’t even a thought in her mind.

“I was just a mom,” she says. “It was just about surviving at that time.”

But the public’s reaction made the growth organic. Tony said the business quickly gained a loyal following, prompting him to continue looking to expand. About 10 years in, he noticed the rising tide of craft beer, which is what prompted him to shift the business to pizza and craft beer, starting with the BoomBozz Taphouse concept at the corner of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway in 2009.

Classic meatballs in pomodoro sauce | Photo by Kevin Gibson

That location was equipped with 20 taps and a frozen bar top, designed to keep your beer cold as you drank it.

“When we first put it in, it was fairly new technology, obviously,” Tony said, laughing. “We had some learning curves with that.”

And while the restaurant concept and menu has evolved, several of the original signature pies remain, such as the Portobello Bello, which is loaded with portobello mushrooms, spinach and roasted red peppers, and the Pollataté, with marinated chicken, rosemary potatoes, red onions and more.

Both of those pizzas have garnered awards nationally.

“The Pollataté is kind of what started it all for me,” said Tony. “That was the pizza that had won first place in Vegas at the (International Pizza Expo) in the mid-’90s. It kind of inspired me to do more creative pizzas.”

The creativity continues — the new menu items are already rolled out at most of the Louisville-area locations and will be up to speed very soon. The additions are certainly worth looking into, particularly the classic meatballs appetizer and the chicken bacon avocado pizza.

The meatballs are dense yet somehow light, with a lightly spicy flavor profile, simmered in pomodoro sauce, then served with Romano cheese and strips of fresh basil. And the chicken bacon avocado pizza is kind of a pie version of a California-style chicken sandwich — the sauce is ranchero, and the toppings are chicken, bacon and red onion, with a surprisingly tasty avocado sauce drizzled on top.

One new menu item at BoomBozz is the chicken bacon avocado pizza. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

There’s also a new pretzel sticks and beer cheese queso appetizer, a baked goat cheese and marinara dip served with garlic ciabatta, and a huge cobb salad with chicken, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, artichokes and more. (You also can get a side version.)

The Tater Kegs are huge tots stuffed with potato, bacon, cheese, chives and sour cream. There’s also a new cauliflower crust option.

Stop in at the Highlands, Hurstbourne, Westport Village and Jeffersonville locations from Nov. 5-8 to get in on giveaways ranging from commemorative glasses and branded footballs to $500 in BoomBozz gift cards. Also, be on the lookout for mailers with special pizza deals.

Meanwhile, the Palombinos will continue to do what they do, 20 years in: make good pizza.

“It’s been a great journey,” said Judy.

And to think, it all started with scribblings on a napkin. Turns out, Tony is well-versed in mapping out ideas on napkins. He laughed when asked about it.

“Yes, the napkins,” he said. “I have all kinds of things on napkins; it’s my playbook. It may not be the best playbook, but it’s worked so far.”

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]