St. Johns is getting lot’s of new restaurants to discover these days and a wonderful addition to our community is Pizza Nostra. Located on the corner of Philadelphia and Lombard in the Marvel 29 building, it’s hard to miss when coming or going over the bridge.
It’s always great to find out what makes a business special and I was able to sit down recently with Abdul Ahoti, the owner of Pizza Nostra. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.
Q: Tell me about Pizza Nostra.
A: We started Pizza Nostra in Northeast Portland in 2011, specifically the Beaumont area for its feel and that its family oriented. There are a lot of family businesses there that provide jobs and that’s why I chose to be in my first location. After five years, we decided to open another location and we had St Johns as the main destination. Thankfully we got this great location by the beautiful St. Johns Bridge and we’re doing great here.
Q: What has your journey looked like?
A: I was working at a pizza shop in 2007, the same year I started going to Portland State. I started entry-level, just doing dishes. A few years after that I was a manager, then a general manager at a new location they opened. I worked in that pizza place for five years until I found a great space in Northeast and decided to go on my own and open my own restaurant.
Q: What things did you encounter along the way?
A: I started the business in 2011. That was my senior year in college, so of course it takes a lot of time to start a new business. I was working 70 to 80 hours a week and took a lot of effort. I worked with my fiancé at the time, my wife now, spending as much as we could financially and in time and effort.
Q: How did you come up with your name?
A: I was just brainstorming, thinking “what’s name I’m going to start with”? I wanted to do something that sounded Italian, but also told our story. I was talking to my mother and she said “why don’t you call it “Our Pizza” and that’s what’s Pizza Nostra literally means!
Q: Why did you choose St. Johns?
A: Great question. St. Johns has a local feeling and restaurants here are small and emerging. It’s a familiar feeling I had when I started my first business. There are quite a few cafes here too. I’ve seen that St. Johns residents love the feel of their restaurants, so I wanted to be part of that. I’ve also been hearing for years that St. Johns is an up-and-coming neighborhood in Portland, so that’s another reason why I wanted the opportunity be here.
Q: How did you design and create your interior space?
A: We like it and wish it was a little bit bigger, but we’re happy to have this space. I wanted to keep the theme of the red and white colors with some stainless steel and add a little bit of wood. I thought that’s good combination of color and kind of the identity of our pizza.
Q: What’s great on your menu?
A: We have a variety of items on our menu and wanted to include everyone. We have traditional pizzas and vegan options as well. We have thick crust, New York-style crust and a gluten free crust. Also one of our specialties is a 26-inch Giant Pizza that barely fits through most doors but, that’s kind of a novelty thing that we just want people to remember us by.
Q: Any advice for a new entrepreneur?
A: I think number one is don’t be afraid to take chances. I took a chance on myself by opening a new location and leaving a job in my senior year, but it’s paid off. Work hard. Never stop learning and surround yourself with a good crew and good people. I think that’s the most important thing about any successful business.
Q: Why do you think people support small, local businesses?
A: Well that’s what Portland is about and that’s what I love about Portland. We love to support local businesses! I like to see small businesses drive a local area and complement each other. Look at the business next door to ours, Hoplandia. We have a great relationship with them. They don’t serve food and we don’t serve beer, but we have excellent relationship together. I’m proud to be in a place that supports local businesses and where people can order a lot of different foods.
Q: Why do people like pizza so much?
A: I believe the pizza is fun! Adults like it and children like it. It’s an affordable meal a family of four can have. When you order a pizza, everyone shares together! People love pizza and if it’s good quality and delivered to their door, then they’ll probably love it even more.