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North Florida District Office Success Stories

North Florida District Office Success Stories

Sebastian Russo

Jacksonville, Fla. – Sebastian Russo, Owner of Brooklyn Pizza in Jacksonville, Florida started his business in December of 2005 with a guaranteed loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Brooklyn Pizza has become a staple in the Bartram Community, with a loyal following and sales to match.

Russo worked as an Independent Programmer for 27 years, meaning he would work for different employers on a contract basis. In 2004, he was in between contracts when his life changed dramatically. His wife filed for divorce, and Russo needed a way to continue to contribute to the family. Unable to find a programming job immediately, Russo accepted a position at Brooklyn Pizza in the Mandarin area of Jacksonville.

It was there that Russo discovered that he was no longer interested programming for a living. He decided that he wanted to be a small business owner and have more control over his future. Russo worked at the store for a year as he learned the business and the industry. He asked the owner if he could license the Brooklyn Pizza name for himself, and open up a second location in a then developing area of Jacksonville.

Armed with the desire to start a new business, but with no real-world experience as an owner, Russo reached out to the SBA in an effort to learn about where to start. He met with Annette Paulson, SBA Economic Development Specialist over a period of three months to develop his business plan. The duo worked together in the Business Information Center, SBA’s former shared space with its resource partners, designed to provide on-site counseling to entrepreneurs.

Russo approached Center Bank, and was subsequently approved for an SBA loan guarantee under the 7(a) loan program. SBA’s flagship 7(a) program can be used for a wide range of purposes including long or short-term working capital, purchase of equipment and machinery, or even new construction of a business. Learn more about the 7(a) loan program at the SBA website.

Brooklyn Pizza opened in 2005 with a line of customers outside of its doors, and will celebrate its 10 year anniversary in 2015. Russo credits his success not only to the counseling he received from the SBA, but also to his mentor at the original Brooklyn Pizza that taught him about the business. The original location has since closed due to issues with the lease, but Russo’s store is anchored in a strip mall surrounded by residential condominiums and larger commercial buildings. His business is growing, and he currently employs over 10 people. There is only one pizza shop in the entire shopping complex, and Russo holds the lease for at another 15 years. He negotiated the right to operate as the sole pizzeria in the complex, as part of his original lease.

Russo set out to distinguish his business as a real New York-style pizzeria. He greets the customers and strives to create a family style restaurant. He believes that building relationships is as important as the location, recipes, and service. He also builds relationships with the community at large through sponsorships for the Special Olympics, Little Leagues in the area, and Mandarin High School Football.

Sebastian Russo, Owner of Brooklyn Pizza can be reached at 13820 Old St Augustine Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32258 or by phone at (904) 880-0020. The restaurant’s website is www.brooklynpizzajax.com.