A local chain, how is it that Buddy’s Pizza draws rave reviews from afar? The Food Network recently named Buddy’s “One of the Nation’s Five Best Pizza Places,” GQ named them “One of the Best 25 Pizzas in America,” and Food & Wine Magazine cited them as “One of the 25 best pizza spots in the U.S.” On the 65th anniversary of its founding in Detroit, DBusiness writer Lindsay Lewis caught up with Robert Jacobs, owner of Buddy’s Pizza, to discern the secret to his success.
DBusiness: How did you get started in the business?
Robert Jacobs: My father bought Buddy’s in 1970 with another person. I started off as a bartender, working part-time through law school. I became a manager in the summer and then got involved in running the business as a partner.
DB: How do you assess expansion opportunities?
RJ: We picked and bought existing buildings in areas with decent lunch business. The areas are highly populated, and GM, Chrysler, and Ford are all within miles of each other. We also chose larger demographic and residential areas that are far enough away from each other. (Buddy’s operates in Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Dearborn, Detroit (original), Farmington Hills, Grosse Pointe, Livonia, Royal Oak, and Warren).
DB: How do you keep your business growing?
RJ: Operation wise, we make sure the people who work with us care about what we are doing. We want our customers happy. Buddy’s is consistent. We treat you well and we believe we can only get better. We’re always trying to improve and add different food items to our menu. Our newest addition is our multi-grain gluten free crust.
DB: How did you come up Motor City Pizza Collection, where pizzas were created for cultural icons?
RJ: I have long, deep relationship with each entity (The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Henry Ford, The Parade Company, and The Detroit Zoo). I’ve been with the DIA for so many years. These pizzas are to bring greater awareness to these institutions because I believe in them. They are all very important to the city of Detroit (for each pizza ordered, $1 is donated to the respective institution). We bring children’s groups into these institutions. We do a long line of things.
DB: What do you like about the DIA? I know you’re on the board of directors.
RJ: I love art and the people who are there. The DIA does a great job with its education program. Being there makes me feel good. They make a difference to children, and help them learn.
DB: Are you looking to expand your business more?
RJ: We’re looking to expand slowly. Nothing large. No corporations or franchises. We’re looking into locations but nothing will happen before a year.
DB: What’s the secret to your success?
RJ: On a business level, we have a great product. We really want to do a great job, but we’re always looking to do better. Everyone here knows the integrity we strive for. Over a period of time, our customers get that. And I don’t just mean with our pizza. It takes integrity and love.
DB: Any advice for others trying to establish their own brand and grow their business?
RJ: It comes down to passion. Believe in what you’re doing and do it with passion, and think long term. You have to have a greater commitment to your business. We truly listen to our customers.
DB: Are there other social causes you’re involved in?
RJ: We work with a lot of charities — both cultural and children. We also work with hospitals, to a lesser degree. We have raised around $2 million for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen of Detroit over the last 35 years.