Casting about for a new franchise-ready concept, restaurateurs Angelo Viscoso and Brad Nagy hit upon a novel idea — a pizza truck.
That may not sound particularly innovative — trucks serving pizza and other comestibles have become familiar sights around the country — but Little Box Pizza offers something different: an opportunity for the underprivileged and underemployed to turn their lives around as entrepreneurial operators in their own right.
“We’re not looking for people who have college educations and would like to get into business — they have plenty of roads open to them already,” said Viscoso, who with Nagy also owns Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizzeria locations in Hartsdale and Mamaroneck in Westchester County, Sotto 13 in Manhattan and il Fornetto in Brooklyn. “We’ve built a pretty good network of people through our other restaurants and finding someone who’s got good sense and ability but who hasn’t been able to succeed in business or in life isn’t necessarily too hard. We found James (Gibson, the owner-operator of the first Little Box Pizza) through a connection of Brad’s, at the church he goes to.”
Nagy said Gibson is serving an apprenticeship and “will matriculate through that process and become the official owner of the Stamford business by year end.” The truck is now owned by Little Box Pizza Benefit LLC. “We bring in every person as an apprentice to train them and give them more and more responsibility over time until they matriculate through to partnership/ownership.”
“You can spend your life living selfishly and just trying to make more money and getting more things,” added Nagy. “But then one day you wake up and say, ‘What did I do with my life?’ It’s a lot more rewarding to do something like this, with an element of social responsibility to it. And more and more people are attracted to companies that have that kind of commitment baked right into their DNA.”
Nagy said the restaurateurs put up the capital required to start the business and finance it. “The capital gets returned in the form of a percentage of profits from the business,” he said. “It aligns our interests and requires us to help the person run a profitable business.”
While heavily involved in the operation at the start, Viscoso and Nagy expect to be franchisors of Little Box trucks, helping the underprivileged to get the small — business loans and training needed to stand on their own as owner-operators. Support staff — cooks, delivery drivers and the like — can come from any background, the partners noted, but franchisees will be chosen whose financial situation would otherwise prevent them from entering such a venture.
“You can spend your life living selfishly and just trying to make more money and getting more things,” said Nagy, “But then one day you wake up and say, ‘What did I do with my life?’ It’s a lot more rewarding to do something like this, with an element of social responsibility to it. And more and more people are attracted to companies that have that kind of commitment baked right into their DNA.”
According to the 2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study, 76 percent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, with 64 percent saying they wouldn’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility practices.
Little Box Pizza is a Certified B Corporation, a for-profit company certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
In another twist on the pizza truck business model, Little Box trucks will be stationed at a particular spot, unlike the mobile operators who travel to and set up at fairs and other events. The first Little Box truck will be on the grounds of Stamford’s First Presbyterian Church at 1101 Bedford St. Customers can order their personal or large-size pies truckside, online or by ordering from the company’s mobile app. Delivery from the truck will also be available.
“We chose Stamford because it’s a town that’s big enough to help us get some recognition right away,” Viscoso said. “The idea is to eventually have clusters of Little Box Pizzas that can be supplied with food from central commissaries.” While Little Box is temporarily operating out of the Stamford church’s new state-of-the-art kitchen, it will soon be drawing from a commissary in Norwalk, he said.
In Stamford, “The city has been very supportive,” Nagy said. “They got behind us very quickly. Zoning can be a real challenge in some cities, but here they asked how they could help us.”
While the social aspect of operating from a church’s premises made a natural fit for the Little Box enterprise, Nagy and Viscoso said they believe the concept can work in communities of any size and at any accessible property. “The first phase is Fairfield and Westchester counties — Yonkers has been very receptive — and we plan to expand from there,” Nagy said.
For their first truck, the pair chose James Gibson as owner-operator. Having grown up on the streets of Bridgeport and Norwalk, Gibson’s background includes gangs, drugs, jail time “and a lot of bad decisions,” he said.
“I got to a point where I said, ‘God, if you won’t let me die, then do something with me.’”
Determined to turn his life around, Gibson entered a discipleship program at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, graduating and securing a custodial position at Black Rock Church in Fairfield, where he got involved in youth outreach programs. Still, finances remained a big concern for him, his wife and his three children — a college sophomore, a high school freshman and a recent kindergarten graduate.
“I had a vision of starting a construction company to help young people become skilled laborers and equip them to become entrepreneurs,” Gibson said. “Then I met Brad and saw that he had the same kind of vision.”
Although the food business hadn’t been on his radar — “I didn’t know anything about making pizza,” Gibson said — discussions with Nagy about the purpose behind Little Box convinced him that it was an opportunity “that I couldn’t miss.”
Gibson was paired with a Frankie & Fanucci’s manager for three months to learn the ropes. “I gained a lot of confidence and now I’m just excited to get started,” he said.
“He’s a quick study,” Nagy said.
Nagy said the first Little Box should be open for business by June 12 “at the latest. We’re finalizing the online ordering details now. We want to get it right before we start.”
In keeping with its “pizza with a purpose” philosophy, Little Box also features a “Slice for the Hungry” option, where for $1.95 a customer can order an extra slice of pizza. Each donated slice will be matched by Little Box and, when a sufficient number of slices have been donated, the truck will coordinate with local soup kitchens and shelters and go onsite to provide pizza for clients.
“This is a franchise model that can be applied to any number of industries,” Nagy said. “It’s very scalable, which was always a part of what we wanted to do.”