As part of Pizza Week 2014, Eater wanted to find pizza industry veterans who could tell stories about how times have changed through many years in Louisville pizza. Here to tell about his life in the business is Tony Palombino, who went from working in his parents' pizzeria to becoming the owner of Boombozz Pizza & Taphouse, an award-winning pizzeria with four Metro locations (plus a fifth to come in Middletown by year's end) along with an outpost in Indiana. Eater got Palombino to speak on pizza, banking, wood ovens and what help his mother gave him to succeed in the pizza business.
When did you start working in the pizza business?
Tony Palombino: I was seven years old, washing dishes at my parents' pizzeria.
Where and when was this?
TP: From 1969 to 1974, they had a pizza shop in Lexington, at North Broadway and New Circle. Then we moved to Orlando, Florida and opened up another shop for about two years before moving to Louisville. In 1987 they opened Wood Oven Pizza, which had Louisville's first wood burning oven. We were way ahead of our time with wood burning ovens and true Neapolitan pizzas. It was only open for about a year.
What did you do after that?
TP: I graduated from Trinity, did training for the company that sold the wood burning ovens.
What was the training?
TP: I did the startups. It was a three day cure. First thing I would do is train the staff how not to destroy the oven. Then I'd teach them how to use it. Back then, when the wood oven craze started in the states, it was all wood burning. There was no gas boost or anything like that, so it was an interesting learning curve. I had to train people how to stoke the oven, depending on what kinds of woods were available in the area.
But you got away from pizza for a while?
TP: I went to Hawaii for a couple of years, a little adventure. I had one year of college at University of Louisville, one great year. It was college, then the adventure. I spent some time in Hawaii, I worked for Ford Motor Credit Company, in finance, and thought that was my direction. I grew up in the restaurant business, working all those hours, and I thought "oh, a nice office job, nine to five." So when I came back to Louisville I worked for Liberty National Bank.
What brought you back?
TP: My parents had opened up a little pizza shop in St. Matthews on Wiltshire. It was attached to a house. They called me and said "we're done with this, we're going to retire." So I took it over, and actually started a concept called Thatsa Wrapp before Boombozz. That grew, and I sold it to some investors, and they moved around the corner and the space became available again. So I opened the first Boombozz in 1998.
What's changed about pizza from the time you were a kid sweeping floors?
TP: Back when my parents came here from Naples, like when you look at the history of just about any pizza company in America, you had to use the ingredients you had in America. They had to modify these Italian foods. So what you had, what you had was this really—when you think about it, who really brought a true Neapolitan pizza or true Italian-style pizza to America at that time? There were a few in New York, but otherwise it evolved. Because they had to use the ingredients they had. My parents didn't make "Neapolitan pizza" in Orlando—they didn't. It was Americanized pizza. I remember that they put their flavor and style into it, but we actually did square pizzas. We did Sicilian style (laughs).
Anything changed about your workday?
TP: I've had to wrap my arms around how to market a business, how to use social media. I get up every morning, I spend two hours, I do all the marketing. I do every bit of it. Social media, Twitter, Facebook, I'm constantly updating things.
Anything your parents gave you help you in your business?
TP: [Tony Boombozz' award-winning combination] chicken potato pizza. Rosemary chicken and roasted potatoes? That's what my mom would make. Olive oil, garlic, the rosemary, it was one of my favorite dishes. So putting it on a pizza wasn't an invention. It was something I learned from my mother.
· Boombozz Pizza & Taphouse [Official Site]
· All Eater Boombozz Coverage [~ELOU~]
· All Eater Pizza Week Coverage [~ELOU~]