“We’re a Mom and Pop place that’s doing pretty big business,” said Scott Wright. “The three of us are extremely proud.” Sharing the ownership of Pizza Palace at 334 Tom Miller Road in Plattsburgh, Wright and his partners, Cindy and Mike Verville, have combined their complementary skill sets and leveraged their long-standing friendship to create an impressive Italian pizzeria that offers delectable food made from scratch in a congenial atmosphere.
Serving pasta dishes, wings, grinders, nachos, fried seafood, soups, and, of course, pizza, the business partnership they formed in 2011 has made Pizza Palace an integral part of the Plattsburgh restaurant scene. Catering to families, they offer an extensive menu with consistent quality in a welcoming atmosphere. Their work ethic, attention to detail, and collaborative relationship has resulted in steady growth for the business. It’s all good.
It Began as a Moonlighting Job
Always interested in the food service industry, Scott Wright—then and now a math teacher for grades 9 and 10 at AuSable Valley High School—began working at Zachary’s Pizza during the summer and weekends in 1990. Seven years later, and buoyed by the knowledge and experience he had gained, Wright leased a space in O’Brien Plaza and began the work to open Pizza Palace in 2000. In his original shop, he developed his own recipes and served great food for 11 years. “I built the business to a certain point, but then realized I could only go so far running it alone. Due to my teaching job, I really needed help during the day. That’s where Cindy and Mike came in,” said Wright.
Synergy at its Finest
“I ran a contracting business for 35 years,” said Mike Verville. “My crew and I were coming in every day for lunch because we loved the food. I loved contracting, but you can only do it for so long. Your body needs a change. I was looking for a retirement business.”
“He kind of rolled into it,” laughed Wright. “He came in so often, we became friends, and started discussing how to combine forces.”
Serendipitously, the future business partners also became neighbors when Wright purchased a duplex Verville built. Their friendship grew, and that’s how Verville’s wife, Cindy, joined the partnership.
“I love cooking,” said Cindy, “but had never worked in a restaurant. Mike was over at Scott’s house every day after work, and we all became friends. My training is in bookkeeping, but since I’ve joined this business, I’ve enjoyed working in a restaurant and I’ve really learned to appreciate the hard work that goes into good restaurants.”
Once the Vervilles joined Wright at Pizza Palace in 2011, they bought land on Tom Miller Road, and Mike began building a restaurant. Today, Pizza Palace operates from a freestanding, modern building with clean lines on a busy thoroughfare. It seats 160 customers, includes a separate pavilion for private parties, and employs 30 people. And its stone hearth ovens, fueled by natural gas, allow them to keep up with the volume of pizzas demanded by a hungry public.
In the summer, IceBurgh, a separately owned creamery, sells ice cream and other cool treats from its location in the back. Pizza Palace’s spacious surroundings and extensive parking lot mean groups of 20 to 25 people can walk in without a reservation. School groups, sports teams, bus loads of tourists, and families celebrating a special occasion can book the special events room at no charge. Not surprisingly, Pizza Palace also does a thriving take-out and delivery business.
When asked about how their skill sets integrate, Wright explained. “Cindy’s a people person and an excellent bookkeeper. In addition to doing the accounting, she does the scheduling, training, and mingles with the customers. Mike can fix things, and loves to cook. He spends three hours a day prepping dishes. I have the experience running a pizzeria, and, over the years, I’ve developed recipes for our marinara sauce, pizza dough, and nachos.”
“I developed the French onion soup, and Scott and I just restructured our meatball recipe,” said Mike, who cooks as well as ensures the facility remains in good repair.
“I love dealing with customers,” said Cindy, “I enjoy meeting local families as well as tourists.” She added that a significant percentage of their customers are seniors who appreciate consistency and a welcoming atmosphere. “They know the employees. It makes you feel good watching them interact,” she said.
Wright agreed. “They have spent their own lives eating, and know what they like. They also appreciate being a part of the restaurant family.”
The synergy of Wright and the Vervilles seems to be working. “We’ve basically doubled our business since we moved here,” confirmed Wright. “And our growth is holding steady. We’re up 20 percent over last year.”
Paying Attention to the Details
Scott, Mike, and Cindy agree that it is the attention to detail that makes their business successful and satisfying. “Our labor and food costs are above average, but it’s worth it,” said Mike. “It can’t always be about the bottom dollar.”
Although it is labor intensive to offer chili, French onion, and two other soups (one cream) every day, bake homemade croutons, make pizza dough from scratch, mix their own sausage, chop salsa, and grate fresh cheese, the partners wouldn’t have it any other way. “We don’t want to stop making food from scratch,” said Wright. “It’s what sets us apart and makes running the restaurant fun.”
From a personnel management standpoint, modeling a conscientious work ethic (“We never ask our employees to do anything we wouldn’t do,” said Cindy) and handling each employee like an appreciated individual are key. “It’s hard to get good people, and when we do, we don’t treat them like a number,” she said. Although they employ people of every age, they find those in their 50s to be especially skilled and reliable. Said Wright: “They bring a good work ethic. This is their livelihood. They enjoy the work and the customers.”
As an integral member of the North Country business community, Pizza Palace also does as much as it can to support activities at all the area schools, including sponsoring a baseball team—the Adirondack Renegades—of the Adirondack Baseball Association. According to coach Zeke Perras, who has known the Vervilles and Wright personally and professionally for years, their sponsorship makes a big difference.
“Their generosity allows a number of young men to continue playing baseball once the Little League season is complete. Not only do they sponsor our team, but they have hosted numerous team meals for our players and their families. It’s business owners like them who know the true meaning of giving back to their community,” said Perras.
“When kids are involved, we try to help out,” confirmed Wright.
Making Things Work
Although July is their busiest month, things pick up in the fall and their business stays consistent.
Scott Wright, Cindy, and Mike Verville agree that open communication and mutual respect take work and are paramount in order to keep the business—and their friendship—vital. “I have a work husband and a real husband,” laughed Cindy. Mike confirmed, “Once the three of us got together, the place took off. You know you’re doing something right.”