From the very onset of developing their business plan, couple Jen and Joseph Strickland and business partner Terri Hannifin had some pretty grand ambitions for themselves and their burgeoning pizza parlor business.
“We definitely set lofty goals for ourselves. If we going to create this business, we were going to do it right,” says Hannifin, who, along with the Stricklands, co-owns Home Slice Pizza, Austin’s hippest pie joint south of the river. “We wanted to build something special that could become part of the community and the neighborhood.”
Opened in November 2005, Home Slice was many years in the making. Jen, who grew up in New York, moved to Austin in 1990, and after discovering that the capital city had little to offer in the way of pizza other than greasy, lifeless slabs of cardboard from national chain restaurants, had an epiphany: She’d open her own authentic New York-style pizzeria
As a former food editor of the Texas Monthly website, Jen was well- versed in Austin’s restaurant scene. But it was her Italian-American background and her many nights spent scarfing down pizza while attending New York University that elevated her to an expert in the mysterious ways of the slice. So it seemed only natural that Jen would eventually become the Queen of Pies.
A few years later, after she’d met and married Joseph and both were laid off from their hi-tech jobs, the couple decided to hit the sauce – the pizza sauce, that is. Jen continued to perfect her New York-style pizza recipes in their home oven, and Joseph began to tackle the Home Slice business plan.
“Our big problem was that we didn’t really know anything about running a restaurant,” Jen admits. “But luckily, we know somebody who did.”
That’s when Jen called up her old college roommate, Terri, who had been managing and opening restaurants for 12 years, and worked in the industry for more than 20 years. A fan of Jen’s cooking and an appreciator of the Austin way of life, Terri uprooted and moved to the Lone Star State to help open Home Slice.
When establishing their restaurant concept, the Stricklands and Hannifin kept things simple, emphasizing two key requirements: create darn good, made-to-order New York-style pizza, and make sure that customers leave the restaurant happier than when they arrived. With those ideals in mind, the partners got to work.
After securing a brief internship with a New Jersey pizza master named Angelo, who helped cement their pizza-making skills, the Stricklands returned to Austin and opened Home Slice on South Congress Avenue. They hired only the most dedicated, interesting and forward-thinking employees to help them build Austin’s pizza parlor to end all pizza parlors. And several years later, the Stricklands and Hannifin still rely on their 50 or so employees to help drive business.
“We have employees with great attitudes who love to take care of people,” Terri says. “Our whole business philosophy is based around playful irreverence. We let people be themselves and enjoy themselves while they’re at work. And I think our customers really enjoy that. It makes your Home Slice experience more genuine; it’s like going into your Italian grandmother’s home where all you do is eat, drink and have a good time.”
In their effort to support their local community, the Home Slicers regularly donate funds, pizza and gift cards to area schools, arts and theater groups, as well as charities including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Young Texans Against Cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and AIDS Services of Austin. They even spon- sored a young girl’s tuition to attend rock camp this year.
It is their belief that giving back to their community and embracing the diversity of their Austin customers has helped to rapidly and organically grow their business.
As allies of Austin’s gay community, the owners of Home Slice welcome many gay and lesbian employees and patrons in to their enchanted pizza kingdom. In fact, two of their key investors – Dick and Jimmie Sue Francis – are staunch supporters of gay rights in Austin. But it is Home Slice’s overall welcoming, home-away- from-home philosophy that has brought many in the gay community back to the pizza parlor time and again.
“How we speak to the gay and lesbian community is through our core values,” Joseph says. “We’re all about playful irreverence, fun and openness. We believe that life is just too short for any kind of negativity.”