February 2021 Menu Makers™

Menu Makers© – Ryan Novak

Ryan Novak has taken Chocolate Pizza Company from two items to worldwide popularity...one slice at a time!

Ryan Novak

Chocolate Pizza Company

www.chocolatepizza.com

While many of us go big for Valentine’s Day, with all the stress and strain we have been going through, wouldn’t it be nice to just kick back with some old favorites like pizza and wings?

Thanks to Ryan Novak and Chocolate Pizza Company (which was named “Business of the Year” by New York’s Centerstate CEO in 2016), you can literally have the best of both world on Valentine’s Day or any day you or a friend or loved one needs a sweet treat to take their minds off other things.

Their hand-crafted and personalizable chocolate pizzas are available in either round or heart shapes and come covered in colorful candies and nuts (and with the possibility of a separate side of potato chip and peanut butter-based “wings”). But what may be most impressive is how Novak took a pair of sweet treats and turned them into a dessert juggernaut that is popular all year ‘round and that continues to give back to the community in many ways.

Santé: What makes your product different and what do you hope to bring to market?

What we’ve been able to do with Chocolate Pizza Company is to take gourmet chocolate specialties and give them a fun, whimsical twist that separates them from the traditional box of chocolates. Our “pizza & wings” theme takes chocolate gifts to another level! To create our Chocolate Pizza®, we use the highest-grade Swiss-style chocolate and add homemade English toffee that I make on-site from a century-old local recipe. We pour that into pizza pans, top them with candies or nuts, seal in cellophane and serve in a custom pizza box. We have dozens of varieties and our chocolatiers do amazing custom work as well. Peanut Butter Wings® are our best-selling specialty. We take crisp, rippled potato chips, cover them in creamy peanut butter and drench in milk or dark chocolate for a salty-sweet culinary contradiction that shouldn’t work but absolutely does!… We are bringing to market a lineup of handcrafted, made-in-America gourmet chocolate specialties that are perfect for business or personal occasions.

Santé: When did you start working on your first product and what had you been doing previously?

I was 15 years old when I was hired at Chocolate Pizza Company as a dishwasher. It was a small chocolate shop in my one-stop-light hometown of Marcellus, NY, that offered two kinds of Chocolate Pizza – with nuts and without. Over the years, I asked the founder to teach me how to work with chocolate and told her that one day I wanted to own the business and make it a national brand. She loved my passion and shared her chocolate-making talents and, when I turned 21, she sold me the company. I was a senior at Syracuse University finishing my bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship when I found myself living my education. 

Santé: To whom did you look for business advice?

My dad had started and built his own leadership consulting company for over a decade, so I had entrepreneurial expertise close to home. As I was still in college, many of my professors took a keen interest in my dual role as student-owner and were quick to help. My capstone project to finish my entrepreneurship degree became a real-world demonstration of business principals and practices. It was quite a challenge but we made it work. I was also fortunate to have other business leaders in the area pitch in and offer insights and advice. The owner of Corso’s Cookies in particular was generous with his time and gave me tours of his facility to explain equipment and layouts that might be useful. The broad range of resources I could draw on made my transition to business owner easier and significantly shortened my learning curve.

Santé: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you dealt with them?

Challenges are a normal part of every entrepreneur’s routine, but it’s how you respond to them that ultimately matters. Certainly adapting to the new reality of life in a pandemic has been a major challenge! The pandemic impact ripples through the business community so that disruptions in one sector filter into others. For example, we are carrying more raw material and packaging supplies than we would normally hold since the likelihood of shutdowns, partial shutdowns, or longer lead times in the future are inevitable for our vendors. By carrying some additional inventory on critical supplies, we can hopefully weather at least the initial disruption. The ability to continue producing in the early stage of a crisis is important – it buys you time to react and find alternatives. We saw that last spring when the first wave of non-essential shutdowns came and we had materials on-hand to stay running as a food producer.

Santé: What do you most look forward to in the coming year in terms of your business?

The growth in online sales has been unprecedented in the last year with increases of more than 200 percent! I am excited to see where we can take that growth in terms of expanded organic traffic and expanded customer base. We are finding ways to adapt to the new normal. For example, we had to totally revamp our fundraising programs for schools and non-profit organizations that we helped raise money. They could not continue with traditional door-to-door fundraisers, so we created a completely online campaign that gives groups a way to raise money in a safe, responsible manner despite the pandemic. There are also opportunities emerging in the wholesale market as our brand visibility and strength grow. We have done orders as large as 31,000 Chocolate Pizzas for major retailers, so I’d like to continue to explore those collaborations. One area I am most optimistic about is the corporate gifts business. We saw a surge in the fourth quarter last year of companies wanting to engage and thank their employees for working through difficult circumstances. I think that will become more and more important this year and that we’ll have opportunities to help companies connect with their teams, especially working from home or remotely. It’s going to be an exciting year for Chocolate Pizza Company!

Matt Robinson has been writing about food (and various other passions and interests) for nearly 20 years. His work has appeared in over 120 international publications, including AAA Horizons, Billboard, Boston Magazine, The Boston Red Sox, Business Traveler, The Dallas Observer, Entrepreneur, The Forward, JazzUSA, Luxury Web, Music Dish, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Rolling Stone, and Where. His restaurant reviews and “Chef Chat” interview columns have appeared all over the world.

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