Chris and Brooke McFarland embrace the daily challenges of their restaurant, Johnny’s Pizza on Main Street in downtown Grayson, as part of an ongoing education in small business.
“We built this pretty much ourselves,” she said as they discussed their decision to buy Johnny’s Pizza from childhood friend Jeff Mills in August, 2015.
“I worked for a scale company and my job was in jeopardy with a buyout. This opportunity presented itself and we said, ‘Why not?'” said Chris, who grew up in Nicholasville. Brooke, a member of the East Carter High School Class of 1998, explained they were both fans of the food at Johnny’s Pizza long before they purchased the restaurant, although neither had ever operated such a business.
“This was the first time for both of us at a restaurant,” she said, citing her background working in a dentist’s office. Chris notes his previous work experience, which included a lot of repair tasks related to restaurant equipment, often comes in quite handy.
“He is really good at mechanical stuff,” she confirmed, adding he often helps fellow restaurant owner Dustin Howard when he has troubles with something at ZZ’s Bar & Grill.
The McFarlands have a lot on their plate, with future plans including possible expansion into the adjacent space of the former Western Auto store and more immediate tasks such as developing a new set of lunch specials for Tuesday through Thursday.
“Lunch – ham and cheese is all day long. That’s our big seller at lunch,” he said. adding “Dinner is where it’s at for us … baked spaghetti, lasagna and pizza.”
Specialty salads and pizzas are also favorites for many Johnny’s Pizza customers, with options such as Hawaiian, Dill Pickle, Taco, BLT Tortilla, Chicken-Bacon-Ranch, White Cheese and Supreme versions, as well as an increasingly popular option – cauliflower crust.
“We sell a lot of those – probably a couple of hundred a week,” he noted.
The flavors at Johnny’s Pizza are specifically crafted with ingredients formulated to provide signature tastes, the McFarlands explained.
“It is the sweetness of the sauce, and the dough. We also hand make the recipes for our sauces. Our cheese, smoked provolone, is definitely our biggest expense and we use it on all we make including our salads. That’s what gives it that distinct flavor,” he said, later adding their homemade salad croutons are often cited by customers as a signature touch.
Buffalo chips and pickle chips are also popular, they said, as are Johnny’s Pizza’s “not deep fried” chicken wings available in six flavors including a new “Carolina Gold” version. The downtown restaurant often also offers cheesecakes, pumpkin rolls, cakes and other goodies created by fellow small-business owner Tracy Vipperman at Double Drizzle Sweet Treats.
A longstanding reputation “as the cleanest restaurant in town” is also a crucial factor in the popularity of Johnny’s Pizza.
Approaching their fifth anniversary as restauranteurs, they say it has been a lot of work, and also a lot of fun.
“I feel like it has flown past,” one said, with the other adding “Me too!”
Success in small business can be a mixed blessing, they said, citing one particularly high-volume special (“Pi Day” with $3.14 pizzas) which left them exhausted.
“It was crazy. We had to turn our phone off. We didn’t expect it to go that well. I made dough for six or seven hours that day,” he said.
Last year’s Super Bowl special, combined with a low staff, was also a tough lesson, he said, noting “That was worse than Pi Day.”
Even when the restaurant is not open, the McFarlands still find themselves at work, which is something they hope to amend in the months ahead.
“Oh yes, we are here on Monday when we’re closed. We’re pretty much always here. This is pretty much us,” she said as they explained they recently made a commitment to spend more time away from work traveling with their daughter, MaryElla, who is eight years old.
“We recently bought a camper and we hope to use it this summer. We hope to spend summer time and make trips with her,” he said, adding they have already made plans to visit Santa Claus, Indiana along with family friends.
With a staff of 8 to 10 team members, Johnny’s Pizza is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, or to place an order, call (606) 474-2441.
Story and Photos by TIM PRESTON