Jerry & Joe’s Pizza
Overcoming dirt-floor beginnings and boom-and-bust bubbles, this South Florida staple has allowed generations of hardworking immigrants to succeed in America.
Italian-born Italo “Jerry” Barone may have started as a restaurant cook and dishwasher up in New York, but by the early ’50s, he was running his own outfit in Brooklyn—and scouting a second location in sunny Florida. After nabbing a spot in Hialeah, near Miami, he and his partner, Joe, opened for business in 1958. Jerry and Joe’s Pizza was an anomaly in the area, but thanks in part to an auspicious location near the Hialeah Park racetrack (which drew in bigwigs like Winston Churchill, Bing Crosby and JFK), the pizzeria took off. “I’ve heard that in the early days, the pizzeria had a dirt floor,” recounts Enrique Cruz, current owner. “Housewives would come in to buy meatballs and sausage for their pasta.”
The Hormilla family bought the business in the early ’70s, but in 1978 it would pass to another Cuban immigrant, Juan Cruz, Enrique’s father. Juan had worked three jobs, including a gig as a pizza “delivery boy,” to save up the money and inherited the business’ authentic Italian recipes. Enrique helped out as a teen and college student, then decided to jump on board—and the father-son duo grew the empire to 30 locations in South Florida after franchising in 1999.
But hardship lurked ahead: When the Great Recession hit in 2008, many couldn’t stay afloat. Luckily, the original Jerry and Joe’s stood strong, as did a second company-owned location, plus two franchises (all four remain today). “We had to pour a lot of our own money into the business just to stay open. Sales could go down 40% in one day,” Enrique remembers. “We concentrated on working hard, spent even more time at the store, advertised as much as we could, and focused on the quality of the product, holding out for better times. Consistency and perseverance paid off.”
Unsurprisingly, the pizzeria doesn’t simply rely on word-of-mouth to sell its made-from-scratch favorites, especially in increasingly competitive South Florida. Marketing mixes old and new: Mailed fliers, lunch specials and bundle deals have attracted locals for years, but technology is also embraced through online ordering, a Facebook page replete with special deals for fans, and an app that’s in the works. Most importantly, the family’s three generations—Juan, Enrique and Enrique’s two kids—are familiar faces in-store. “When you treat your customers like extended family, when you have that history, when you have employees with you 20 to 50 years as we do, that helps,” Enrique concludes. “But you can’t run your pizzeria by remote control; you have to be there.”
By Tracy Morin