Melvin and Lisa Adams (center, holding award), owners of Straight Outta New York Pizzeria in Chadron, were recognized as the Small Business Administration's Nebraska 3rd Congressional District Minority Small Business Champion of the Year for 2012 during an event May 18 at the business.
Nebraska Business Development Center Chadron Director Timothy Donahue (right) nominated them for the honor, and Nebraska District Office Economic Development Specialist Lisa Tedesco (left) presented their award on behalf of District Director Leon Milobar.
The SBA Nebraska District Office names one outstanding individual or couple as the 3rd Congressional District Minority Small Business Champion award based on efforts to promote minority-owned small business, volunteer time and services to small business interest groups, advocate for the cause of small business, and use professional expertise to assist small business owners.
Bringing New York-style pies to the Panhandle
How far do you need to travel to get a great New York style pizza? For people in Chadron it’s as close as Main Street.
Straight Outta New York Pizzeria has built a loyal following since opening its doors in February 2010. But before chef Melvin Adams could serve up his first pie, the couple obtained Donahue's assistance in writing a viable business plan.
Born in Wounded Knee, S.D., and raised in Seattle, Melvin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and is a descendant of Crazy Horse’s parents. He met his wife, Lisa, in Seattle, and she introduced him to New York-style pizza later while the couple lived in New Jersey. Melvin finished his culinary training at The Seattle Chef School and worked as a sous chef and head chef, and the assistant executive chef at the Nabisco headquarters in New Jersey.
When Lisa later took a job representing the York Tribe in Klamath, Calif., as their senior attorney, Melvin got so many requests from the tribe employees there he'd make pies in his home oven and deliver them in person.
They moved to Chadron in 2006, as Lisa accepted the role as chief judge for the Oglala Sioux Tribe; among other jobs, Melvin briefly served as the Shannon County, S.D., deputy sheriff and active sheriff.
Betting their last dollar on the business
By 2009, the couple invested their last $5,000 in their bank to open their first Straight Outta New York Pizzeria adjacent to a bar in the building's basement, testing new recipes on the bar patrons. It was an instant hit, making a profit after only two weeks in business. On their first day, they had more customers than they'd planned and the oven even broke down. Still, patrons were so impressed they would call their friends while eating to urge them to come out down to try a pie. To help attract customers to their eatery, they later moved the restaurant to an airy, above-ground space on Main Street, directly across from the Eagle movie theater.
The move has paid off in a steady stream of hungry customers, with an estimated $94,000 in sales by the end of 2012.
Starting with the purchase of an old stone pizza oven owned by a local doctor, Melvin has used his ingenuity and the Internet to purchase quality used kitchen equipment at a fraction of the cost of new. “I got a great ventless fryer worth about $10,000 on EBay for $400,” he says proudly. He and Lisa rolled up their sleeves and remodeled the dining room themselves, “so all it cost us was the materials.”
Adams says fresh ingredients set his pizzas apart. “I make everything from scratch, right down to the dough and the sauce,” he says. “I figure I made about 30 one-gallon batches of sauce before I got the recipe just right. I had one fella come in eight days straight after we opened, while I was still testing my sauces. He finally said, ‘I don’t understand it, Mel. Every day, the pizza is better.’”
Adams and his wife share the duties of running a popular restaurant. “She knows the numbers and I know food,” he said. “We complement each other. When it comes to the business, really the two of us become one.”
Their goal is to have “a string of Straight Outta New York Pizzerias up and down the Plains,” he said, with plans to open a site on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In the meantime, satisfying appetites is at the top of his list.
“When I cook something that makes a customer happy,” he says, “then I’m happy.”
In addition to managing the pizzeria, Lisa offers her 20 years of legal experience to aid other minority-owned small businesses in the area.