Whether you’re a pizza fan or a student of business, you’ve got to love a story like Spinelli’s Pizzeria‘s.
The hip and humble carryout pizza joint that opened on Baxter Ave. in 2004 will open unit No. 5 in Valley Station in May and follow that with a spot in Hollywood — California, not Florida — later this summer.
Save for a small business loan to get started, Brian Gaughan, Spinelli’s friendly, low-profile and highly tattooed owner, has bankrolled his expansion by growing carefully, saving judiciously and living well below his means. (What a freakin’ weirdo, eh? Doesn’t this guy know about borrowing himself rich and going broke?)
It doesn’t hurt that his Philly-style pizza (a fixture of his youth that he missed after moving here from the City of Brotherly Love to work for Ford in the late 1990s) is always tasty, filling, affordable and available well into the wee hours. He’s proven there’s a niche for that.
Soon, Gaughan and business partner Anthony Marinelli (who has rotated as manager of a few of local Spinelli’s outlets for some time now) will bring true East Coast pizza to Tinseltown just blocks from the famed Chinese Theater and directly across the street from a Hollywood Blvd. pizzeria voted the city’s best East Coast pizza.
“The place is called Joe’s Pizza, and when we went there, we thought that if this is the best this city has, then this is where we need to take ours,” Gaughan said. “Anthony is from L.A., and he’s always wanted to get back there, so that’s how we started thinking about putting (a Spinelli’s) there.”
But first, Gaughan will open one in Valley Station (8610 Dixie Hwy.) on or before Derby Week in a restaurant that last was a Fire Fresh BBQ.
It’ll mark his first Spinelli’s with a liquor license, which has him believing business will be brisk.
“I’m going to say right now that it’s going to be our second busiest store in the city behind Baxter,” said Gaughan, referring to his original location, which, after business took off, expanded to include a dining room and delivery service. He said the South Louisville neighborhood is colorful and diverse. “There are all types of people out there. You come in and it’s like an A.A. meeting. It never gets boring out there.”
Once that’s up and running, Gaughan will begin traveling regularly to Hollywood to oversee construction of Spinelli’s first West Coast operation, a financial investment he said will be shouldered by Marinelli. He’s currently hoping to start construction in April, but as often happens, permitting has gone slower than expected.
Though he declined to say how much the business will pay in rent in California, he said it’s not as bad as one might assume. “It’s at least more than double, so it’s not terrible.”
But what he really imagined as dreadful was Los Angeles itself. Much as some from the north don’t like the south and vice versa, the eastern U.S. native assumed he’d hate the Left Coast. He was wrong.
“If you’d have asked me 10 years ago if I thought I’d ever go out there, I’d have said no way because I’m a true East Coaster and we all hate L.A.,” he said. “But I love it out there. The weather wins you over and the excitement of the city makes it a great place. It’s also a decent food city. But that means my friends back East are giving me hell about it.”
He said the funky, urban décor Spinelli’s is known for here will migrate west to the Cali shop.
“Same food and concept, but different city,” he said. “The potential there for this type of pizza is huge, and Philly cheesesteaks, too. … Overall there the pizza’s pretty bad, though the artisan pizza is good.”
As it should be. L.A. is home to Spago, where pizza maker Ed LaDou gave life to California-style pizza in 1982. After leaving Spago, LaDou penned California Pizza Kitchen’s first menu before launching his own iconic restaurant Caioti Pizza Café. Many elsewhere followed suit, taking pizza toppings light years beyond pepperoni, mushroom and sausage, and Gaughan to places he never expected to go.
“Once things really get going, I’ll be traveling there for a week and then coming back for a week at a time, and that’ll last a couple of months,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge to see if we can make it work there, but I’m pretty excited about it.”