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Robert Loerke fills a glass with draft beer. Photos by Madison Miller.
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Johnny Brusco’s manager will soon compete in a dough-throwing contest.
Robert Loerke has always felt at home in the atmosphere of a pizzeria. Growing up, he enjoyed frequenting a family friend’s pizza restaurant and dreamt of opening his own. Though he eventually went into a career in the computer industry, he and his wife, Julia, always kept the idea of owning their own pizza restaurant in mind.
Five years ago, their dream became a reality. Robert and Julia opened their first franchise of Johnny Brusco’s New York Style Pizza.
The restaurant originated in Georgia and has since expanded to eight states. Its Vestavia Hills location was the first for the Birmingham area and they recently opened their second location in the Hoover area.
While atmosphere is important, Robert and Julia understand that the quality of the food is what makes customers come back for more. Unlike many pizza restaurants, Johnny Brusco’s has avoided bringing in machinery to assist with dough prep, insisting that handmade dough produces a better quality pizza. Though many restaurants add these to save time in the kitchen, they might be sacrificing flavor, the Loerkes said.
When looking for staff, Robert and Julia look not only for experience, but also for open minds and a willingness to learn. Chefs who might be under experienced in pizza can be taught their traditional way efficiently.
“This is a craft,” Robert said. “They have to be willing to learn and good at what they do.”
Though their Meat Deluxe specialty pizza, lasagna and mini garlic knots are among their most popular items, customers can’t go wrong, Robert and Julia said.
“We’ve received positive feedback from every menu item,” Robert said.
Their personal favorite, however, is the Johnny’s Italian Special. On a thin crust loaded with sausage, mushrooms, onions, pepperoni and green peppers, the choice has a variety of flavors.
“I like the thin crust,” Julia said.
Robert and Julia hope to continue to grow their business. Now they look forward to serving and giving back to both communities. Johnny Brusco’s frequently participates in school team and individual sponsorships, hosts community parties and other community fundraising events. Robert and Julia agree that customer service is top priority.
“[It’s important to] make them feel welcome, listen to them and let them know that you care,” Julia said. “It’s not about you, it’s about them.”