Born in New York City’s Little Italy and brought up in Brooklyn, Paul LaRocco learned a time-honored recipe for thin-crust Neapolitan pizza dough. He brought the New York secret to California and in 2008, he and his wife opened the first LaRocco’s Pizzeria, offering eat-in, takeout and delivery service of pizza, calzones and sandwiches made fresh daily.
LaRocco’s was profitable from day one, sales increased every year, and the restaurant was voted Best Pizza in Los Angeles for five years running. Paul LaRocco previously owned two successful restaurants, however, when he approached banks seeking a loan to open another location, a challenge emerged.
“I applied several times, and because I was self-employed, was considered a ‘newbie,’ despite many years in business. It was very frustrating,” LaRocco recalls. Paul and his wife were about to give up on the location they had found when, in December 2013, LaRocco’s wife found the Small Business Development Center hosted by Pacific Coast Regional Corp. online.
LaRocco worked one-on-one with Business Advisors Harold C. Hart-Nibbrig and Sahar Andrade to fine-tune his business plan, obtain an SBA Community Advantage Loan Program, add social media to his marketing mix, and took the SBDC Guided Business Plan course.
“The business plan course was very helpful,” says LaRocco. “I didn’t know the ins and outs of how to look at a business plan — how brief it should be, how intelligible, how someonewill read it and what’s important to include.” Once LaRocco completed the course, Hart-Nibbrig edited the plan and provided input. “Their help was very timely and they had a lot of input — they helped me dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.” In January 2014, LaRocco’s received a $150,000 direct loan through Pacific Coast Regional’s SBA Community Advantage Loan Program.
“[Sahar] was very enlightening as far as what we could and should do on social media, and she was able to recommend people we could outsource to that can help us do it,” LaRocco says. “We [outsourced to] one person for a month to put Facebook and Twitter to work for us; since then, my wife has taken it over.”
LaRocco’s Pizzeria now offers rewards such as discounts and special offers for Facebook fans and Twitter followers. For example, customers get a free slice of pizza for checking in on Facebook. “It’s a great incentive, and we’re getting [new customers] from that word-of-mouth,” LaRocco says.
Dot the i’s and Cross the t’s
Banks may not have been impressed by LaRocco’s success, but the staff at the SBDC was — especially after LaRocco brought sample pizzas to the office. “We were met with open arms — and the pizzas were gone in five minutes,” he recalls with a laugh. The LaRoccos had found a location they knew would do well, and were ready to put their own money into the new location. Convinced that LaRocco could make a go of a second location, Hart-Nibbrig helped him fine-tune his business plan.
“The people at the SBDC are very knowledgeable about the upside and downside of [entrepreneurship] and can help you start a new business, expand a business or open a second location.”
Talk to the Experts
LaRocco was impressed with the variety of knowledge the staff at PCR had. “Each of those people is an expert in their particular field,” he explains. For example, once he had obtained the loan, LaRocco took advantage of Attorney Hart-Nibbrig’s guidance. “Before I signed the lease [for the new location], Harold took a look at it. He also helped me [vet] the general contractor. [The SBDC has] all these support people, and it all comes with the package, so they can help you from your idea all the way through to opening a business.”
Buildout on the second location, which is in the Westchester area of Los Angeles, will begin in May, and the location should be open in July. With nearly twice the square footage of the current location, the second location will enable LaRocco’s to offer catering services and host events more easily. To do so, they plan to add between 10 and 20 employees to their current staff of 10.
Even without the new location, adding social media to the restaurant’s marketing mix has helped the business grow. “[Sales are] 10 percent ahead of last year already,” says LaRocco. And more growth is on the horizon: “[The new location] isn’t even open yet, and I had a guy asking me about opening a location in Koreatown!” LaRocco marvels.
At 79 years old, LaRocco admits, “Six months ago I wasn’t even thinking of a second place. I just got the itch again. Why did this [location] come to pass? Why did I get a loan [through] the SBA when I couldn’t get one from the bank? I think there’s a hand of fate. Set goals, figure out how you’re going to get there, and if it’s meant to happen, it will happen.”
“Each SBDC advisor is an expert in their particular field. Before I signed the lease for the new location, Business Advisor Harold C. Hart-Nibbrig took a look at it and even helped me [vet] the general contractor. The SBDC has all of these support people, and it comes with the package, so they can help from your idea all the way through to opening a business.” –Paul LaRocco, Owner, LaRocco’s Pizzeria