How this island pizzeria reached the top 10 percent in America

How this island pizzeria reached the top 10 percent in AmericaMathew Klabacka wasn’t always in the restaurant business. Before becoming owner of a successful pizzeria located in the tourist hotspot of Amelia Island, Florida, he worked in the car dealership industry and the construction industry, as well as the veterinary, pharmaceutical and surgical technology industries. He is trained in medical billing and coding, massage therapy and personal training.

In 2014, Klabacka added entrepreneurship to his impressive list of experience when he saved a pizzeria while on a family vacation.

“I was headed to Townies with my 15-year-old son, Ty. We pulled into the parking lot and Townies wasn’t there,” he recalls. After a momentary panic, the two drove around the block and eventually spotted their favorite vacation eatery in its new and current location, marked only by an envelope-sized sign on the front door. A chat with the then-owner revealed that the recent move had drained the restaurant’s financial resources.

“Townies was in trouble,” Klabacka said. “The owners owed sales and payroll taxes, they owed their food vendors and they were within days of shutting down.”

Klabacka felt so strongly about keeping Townies in business that he volunteered to purchase a $1,000 neon roadside sign for the restaurant. Over the ensuing weeks, he lent more help, meeting with tax officials to set up payment arrangements and boosting advertising efforts. After a few months of marked improvement, he was convinced that Townies could thrive after all and made an offer. In November 2014, he purchased a majority share of the restaurant and has since taken over as its sole owner.

Since that time, Townies sales continue to grow. In third-quarter 2015, Townies crossed the critical $1 million mark for year-to-date annual sales. That puts the pizzeria among the top 10 percent in the American independent pizzeria industry.

On an 18.2-square-mile island that also boasts a dozen other pizza places, Klabacka transformed Townies and nurtured the local favorite into a flourishing business – mainly by creating a sense of community in reflection of the establishment’s name, which it has borne since its inception.

“We donate more than $10,000 a year to the local arts, education, sports, environmental programs, military veterans and first responders. We want the community to be a better place because we’re in it; we even adopted a local highway and keep it clean,” Klabacka said. “Finding ways to reach out to the people in your area is one of the best ways to raise awareness.”

As important as community is to a restaurant’s success, so is appealing to those visiting the establishment. This means, in part, that signage, decor and logo are all key elements as well.

“We believe they all comingle, creating the relaxed, hip atmosphere that we want our pizzeria to exude,” Klabacka said. “Without proper signage, people may not even know a restaurant is open.”

Tying it all together is the ability to create a unique and inviting atmosphere that appeals to locals and visitors alike. The outdoor patio and oversized Adirondack chair on the front lawn are a few ways the pizzeria actively invites customers in to visit and try the food.

“Your atmosphere matters. We have live music and offer various specials throughout the year by recognizing kids with good grades, moms on Mother’s Day, promotions for National Selfie Day and more,” Klabacka said. “We recently helped with a ‘pizzaposal.’ It’s the little things that make us stand out.”

Klabacka has plans for the future of Townies, including expansion. Everyone wants to feel local, and Townies allows everyone who enters to feel like family. The restaurant’s food, atmosphere, customer service and sense of community keep customers coming back for more.