Ryan Novak of Chocolate Pizza Company

    We Spoke to Ryan Novak of Chocolate Pizza Company on Being an Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

    As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Novak, the 32-year-old owner of Chocolate Pizza Company, Central New York’s largest chocolate maker that has grown from a small-town chocolate shop into an emerging national brand. The company’s signature, products Chocolate Pizza® and Peanut Butter Wings® are gourmet chocolate gifts for business or personal occasions made with the highest quality Swiss-style chocolate. They have been enjoyed by A-list celebrities, hall of fame athletes, music legends, top political and business executives and chocolate lovers from 6 continents. In 2016, Chocolate Pizza Company was named “Business of the Year” (less than 50 employees) by Centerstate CEO, the area’s largest business development association covering 12 counties in Upstate New York. Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship from Syracuse University where he also played college football. He is a 40 Under Forty awardee and was honored as “Young Alumnus of the Year” by SU’s Whitman School of Management. Ryan is married and resides in his hometown of Marcellus, New York.

    Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?

    When they talk about personality types, I am categorized as an “Entertainer.” And, I wholeheartedly embrace both its strengths and weaknesses. On the positive, they say bold, original, and practical are natural strengths of an Entertainer as is a vibrant embrace of life and a highly social skill set that is happiest spending time with family and friends. I inherited that love of life and energetic rush to enjoy every day from my mom, Cynthia. She was a fountain of energy, curiosity, and discovery. She loved family above all else and had a gentle yet confident demeanor that put people at ease. I miss her so much. She died when I was 9 but she started me down this path I’m on now as a leader. I grew up in Marcellus, a small town that would pass for a Norman Rockwell painting with literally one-stop light and neighborhoods of people with big hearts. I played baseball and football in high school and loved playing saxophone. I attended Syracuse University where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship and was a place kicker on the football team. I love history and travel, especially to Europe. My younger brother, Connor, is a high school senior headed to college this fall to study astrophysics. He works hard for us and we are close. My mom (stepmom), Jeannette, is also my godmother and a very special person in my life from a young age. She runs production at Chocolate Pizza Company and is our most talented chocolatier. My wife, Christie, is my best friend and soul mate. We met in college. She has her doctorate degree, teaches full-time and is active in the business. Growing up, especially after mom’s death, my dad and I were inseparable. He guided me out of that tragedy and we share a unique bond. Family is everything to me.

    What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?

    My journey to own Chocolate Pizza Company started with stacks of dirty dishes. I was 15 years-old and looking for my first job in the real world when I walked into a little chocolate shop in my hometown. The owner knew me because her store used to be across the street from my house. When I was a toddler, my mom would push me in a stroller over there and while the two women chatted I would reach up on the counter and grab a handful of chocolate samples. I definitely had Chocolate Pizza in my blood from a very young age! I was hired as a dishwasher. There was no industrial grade machine, I stood over big stainless steel sinks for hours scrubbing and rinsing. I mopped floors, took out trash and loved every minute. Chocolate makes people happy and I wanted to be in a business that made people smile. The aroma inside was amazing, the people were wonderful and Chocolate Pizza and Peanut Butter Wings were something no one had heard much about. I was a wide-eyed teenager who could see this idea becoming so much bigger than just a small-town chocolate shop. I asked the owner to teach me everything about making chocolate and about her business and over the years she did. I told her that when she was ready to retire, I wanted to own Chocolate Pizza Company. In 2010, six years after being hired as a dishwasher, she gave me that opportunity.

    Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

    When the name of your company and your signature product is “Chocolate Pizza” communicating what you actually are can sometimes make you smile. We are a gourmet chocolate maker that plays off the familiar “pizza & wings” theme but sometimes people don’t differentiate. We make our Chocolate Pizza by blending the highest-grade Swiss-style chocolate with homemade English toffee. I make the toffee on-site in small batches for maximum flavor using a local century-old recipe. We pour the mixture into actual pizza pans and top them with a variety of candies or nuts. It’s sealed in cellophane and served in a custom pizza box and is a unique gift for business or personal occasions. But people just see “Chocolate” and “Pizza” put together and sometimes assume we top dough with chocolate or that we are a new kind of pizza shop. We get people all the time that come in asking for a slice of pepperoni or call and ask if the dough will still be fresh when it ships to California. Adding to the confusion is the fact that we offer “Wings” with our “Pizza”. These are our top-selling chocolate specialty and are rippled potato chips covered in creamy peanut butter and drenched in milk or dark chocolate. They’re a sweet-salty culinary contradiction that should not work but do and people go crazy for them. Only they often ask for “Chicken Wings” or “Angel Wings” instead of “Peanut Butter Wings”. Some ask how we put chocolate on chicken. Whatever they call them, we smile and explain that there is no chicken here but trust us these wings will be your new favorite.

    None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

    There are too many to mention. I have been blessed to have good people stand with me on my journey and help me to reach the place I am today. My family’s influence has obviously been paramount — I am not successful without their unconditional love and support. But outside the family, I have learned valuable lessons from so many people. I had a dream coming out of high school to make the Syracuse University football team as a place kicker. I trained hard and in my travels was fortunate to meet a professional kicking coach from Virginia named Paul Woodside. He made a big impact on and off the field. On his first day coaching me, he took me to the bottom of a steep un-mowed grassy knoll. He demonstrated the kicking motion he wanted me to perform — pushing off with my left leg as I swung my right leg forward as if kicking an invisible football. I would need use the strength of my left leg to propel me forward and not let my right leg touch the ground between swings. He then jogged to the top of the knoll and told me the drill was finished when I reached him. The first few swings were easy as I powered up the incline, but success was short-lived. Halfway up the knoll, my left leg muscles were screaming, I was breathing heavy and the top seemed miles away. Coach Woodside kept encouraging me, pushing me, cajoling me to not quit, don’t let that right leg touch the ground, keep pushing up the hill with that left leg. He kept asking me how bad did I want to make the SU roster, how far was I willing to push myself to chase a dream. He told me right now there are a hundred other kids working just as hard for that one spot on the team, a hundred other kids with the same dream, a hundred other kids ready to push me aside to get there first. He kept saying, “How bad do you want this?” I refused to quit or fail in the drill. With every word from coach, I pushed harder, inched my way closer to where he was standing until I finally made it and collapsed at the top of the knoll. Pleased with the outcome of his first lesson for me, Coach Woodside leaned over and said, “Ryan, big dreams should never come easy.” His words have stuck with me all these years. And, yes, I made the Syracuse University football team as a walk-on place kicker.

    Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

    My first hurdle was just being able to buy the business. Access to capital is a monster obstacle for many small business hopefuls. It is difficult for a seasoned business professional to secure funding in the best of times but tackle that challenge as a twenty-something student in an economy that was barely recovering and funding sources balk. I was 21-years-old, headed into my senior year at Syracuse University where I was studying entrepreneurship. The education and advisors I had at college helped me write an outstanding business plan. I knew the direction I wanted to take the company and I had a plan to get us there. In fact, more than one banker commented that my business plan was one of the best they had ever seen. But no one would finance the deal. I went to one financial institution after another, meeting after meeting, phone call after phone call, application after application but they all ended the same way — no loan. One banker even told me that a 21-year-old was too young to run a company and that I would fail because of my inexperience. So, with no traditional financing options available, I went back to the owner and negotiated a buy-out. We sat in her living room and worked through numbers, timelines, payouts, consequences. It was not easy and often tense but in the end the strength of our relationship and my passion for taking her idea to the next level sealed the deal. On July 10, 2010, I officially became the owner of Chocolate Pizza Company and I hadn’t even started my senior year of college.

    Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

    I learned to push through adversity at a young age. My mom was killed when I was 9-years-old by a man high on drugs who ran a stop sign as she drove home from work. It was the most devastating news any child can receive and it shattered my world. My dad worked so hard in those years after her death to keep me moving forward. My godmother, family, friends, neighbors, teachers all rallied to my side and kept me from being consumed by the grief of her loss. I’m 32 years-old now and I miss my mom every day. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think about her. But I made her a promise that day that I would make her proud. More than twenty years later, it is a promise that still inspires me. Learning to cope with that tragedy gave me a rare perspective on life that has been useful as a leader. There is no setback, problem or challenge that I encounter at Chocolate Pizza Company that ever rises to the level of that dark day in August when a boy waited in vain for his mom to come home. The bar is set infinitely high for me on what constitutes a “bad day” so literally anything else is something I can handle. I approach my business now with a confidence that I can overcome any obstacle because I have already conquered worse.

    So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

    Over the last 10 years, I would say we have made great strides in transforming that small-town chocolate shop into an emerging national brand. Patience, determination and a never-quit attitude has lifted Chocolate Pizza Company to impressive levels of success. Sales are more than 5 times what they were in 2010, and last year we saw online sales grow by nearly 300%. We built our own place in 2015 — keeping our local roots on acreage just 2 miles from our first village location. We expanded that new facility to nearly 14,000 square feet in 2020 to keep pace with our growth. When I took over, we were melting chocolate in pans on a stove in a kitchen. Today, we process over 100,000 lbs. a year in computer controlled tempering machines. A large order before I took over might have been for 100 Chocolate Pizzas — now, we’ve handled single orders as large as 31,000 Chocolate Pizzas. In 2010, there were 2 choices of Chocolate Pizza — with nuts and without — today we make over 50 different varieties and take custom orders. You could not buy our Chocolate Pizza online in 2010 but today our website has received orders from chocolate lovers on 6 continents. We have been featured on Food Network, Hallmark Channel, National Geographic, CNBC and more. In 2016, we were named “Business of the Year” for employers under 50 people by Centerstate CEO, a business development group covering 12 counties in Central New York. None of this came overnight. None of it was easy. There were highs and lows at every stage and many times when the way forward was not clear. But they call these endeavors dreams for a reason — they are always just beyond what we are currently capable of achieving and it is that constant reach that drives our growth. We have to do today what we could not do yesterday. The Hannibal quote when his advisors told him there was no way for war elephants to cross the Alps on the way to attack Rome is quite applicable to entrepreneurs. He said, “We will either find a way or make one.” Our persistence does not guarantee success but its absence makes success impossible.

    What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

    Chocolate is a crowded marketplace with huge international giants and tiny boutique makers competing for customer attention and loyalty. The novelty of our name, quality of our chocolate, and creativity of our products are certainly factors in catching the consumer’s eye but from an organizational perspective what makes us stand out as a small, family business is our ability to morph into whatever size you need us to be. We are extremely adaptable and that has allowed us to earn some very big business. One of the best examples was a short-notice order we did for a national retailer for 31,000 Chocolate Pizzas. They called out of the blue and said that a holiday vendor had dropped out and they needed a replacement product asap. One of their buyers had dealt with us in the past at a previous company and had great things to say about the quality of our products and team. They asked if we could deliver 31,000 Chocolate Pizzas in 60 days. I said, “Of course!”, hung up the phone and wondered what had I just done. After the shock wore off, I pulled everyone together and we laid out a production plan, repositioned equipment, cross-trained staff, ordered supplies and got to work. Long story short, we loaded 9 semi-tractor trailers filled to the brim with 31,000 Chocolate Pizzas a week ahead of schedule. I have a quote from Walt Disney hanging in our building that says, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” We like to make a habit of it.

    Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

    Celebrate the little victories. I would tell my colleagues not to overlook the small wins that come every day because they are like a spring in the desert that refreshes your spirit. Big wins can be few and far between and in the wait for those milestones you drain away a lot of energy and positivity. “Burn out” is not so much the absence of milestones as it is the interval between them. There’s a lot of good things that happen in business on a smaller scale and learning to celebrate those times — those small wins — can reenergize you and keep things moving forward. My dad wrote a book called, Conquering Adversity: Six Strategies to Move You and Your Team Through Tough Times,” where he draws on our experience after my mom died to regain a sense of purpose and passion. One of his six strategies is “Celebration” because of the impact it has on staying positive. Thriving is maintaining momentum through difficult times — putting the wind at your back and keeping your sails full. Celebrating all the good news, good times, good outcomes no matter how big or small builds a positive momentum that can carry you a long way.

    How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

    Community is strong in my psyche. The tragedy with my mom helped me appreciate that there are no unimportant good deeds. So many people stepped up to make a difference for me and my dad when we were struggling to get back on our feet. It taught me that the smallest gesture can have a major impact. I like the Mother Teresa quote that if you can’t feed a hundred then feed one. The idea that just because you can’t do things on a large scale doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what is within your reach. Choose to make an impact in your corner of the globe. As a business professional, I carry those lessons. Chocolate Pizza Company supports a host of local charities and those are all important. But what defines the character of my company is when we do seemingly small things that make a difference for even just one person. I’ll give you an example. A couple years ago, a father and grown son walked into our store at closing. The elder father walked quietly around the shop looking at our products while the son gathered his items and brought them to the register. We noticed the father lingered at a Chocolate Pizza with a red, white, blue candy border that read “Thank You for Your Service” that we had done for Memorial Day. I asked the son as he checked out if he was a veteran thinking I would give him a discount but he answered no. On the way out the door though, the father stopped and quietly said, “Nam, 69 to 69.” Then he left. We didn’t hesitate and grabbed the Memorial Day pizza the father had noticed and took it out to him just before they reached their car. Shaking his hand, we said, “Thank you for your service.” He opened the pizza box, saw the special Chocolate Pizza and could barely compose himself to reply, “Thanks.” My late grandfather served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 so this was personal for me too. Four months later, I got a letter from the son who told us how much that moment meant to his dad and how no one had ever said that to him. He enclosed a check and a request for us to use the money to share that message with more vets. We did. We headed up to the local VA Hospital on Veterans day and brought a ton of chocolate along with a handshake and a thank you. Chocolate won’t change the world but in a parking lot of a small town in Upstate New York it sweetened life for a forgotten vet. For me, that makes what we do kind of special.

    Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

    1. Share your story, they’ll buy your product
    2. Succeed first, expand later
    3. As your company changes, so do the supporting players
    4. The view from the summit is impressive; so are the storms
    5. Enjoy more sunsets — find your balance

    I would tell the 21-year-old me who had just become owner of a gourmet chocolate company that the secret to success is to sell your story not your product. By that I mean that there is a difference between making a sale and earning a customer. I was initially focused on sales and not customers. What I learned over time was that sales are transactional, customers are relational. Sales are momentary, customers are long-term. You can trigger a sale by running a coupon, but you can’t build a connection without a story. Share your story, they’ll buy your product means connect with your audience and they will be interested in whatever you are offering. Purchase decisions with an emotional tie are far more likely to repeat than ones made saving a few bucks. In my opinion, people don’t want to buy something; they want to feel something. They want to know the owner, hear the backstory, identify with the journey so that when they choose to spend their hard-earned dollars with your business it reflects the connection they feel toward you. I didn’t always understand that in my early days leading Chocolate Pizza Company. I didn’t want it to be about me or the novelty of a twenty-something owner. I wanted people to buy our chocolate because it was the best, to taste our creations and decide that the products were exceptional on their own. In our Chocolate Pizza and Peanut Butter Wings, we had gourmet chocolate gift items that could stand on their own merits. That was partly right. Our “pizza & wings” concept was unique, delicious, and impressive and people enjoyed them. They could make a sale on their own. But what surprised me is how many people wanted to know more about me than about the chocolate. They spent time talking with me, shaking my hand, asking how I got to be the owner at such a young age. They were fascinated that a twenty-something kid from a one-stop-light town in the rural countryside of Upstate New York had started as a dishwasher when he was 15 and worked hard enough to be the owner by age 21. Sharing that story earned us a customer not just a sale. Today, I find it easy to share my story with people because I love making that connection and I hoping that something in my journey sparks or inspires something positive in their own. I’m even writing a book!

    I wish someone had told me to succeed first, expand later. There is this misconception that growing your business means planting your company flag in as many locations as quickly as possible. In my opinion, nothing could be farther from the truth. The entrepreneurial highway is littered with the remnants of businesses that expanded for the sake of “growing” and forgot to build a brand first. In the exuberance of my youth, I set out to grow the business by adding more retail locations. I would make the product in Marcellus, New York and supply this ever-expanding network of Chocolate Pizza Company stores. The brand would grow because more people would see it — seemed logical. Instead, it was a siren’s call that lured me and the good ship Chocolate Pizza to a painful lesson learned on the rocks of brick-and-mortar expansion. At one point, I had 5 brick-and-mortar operations and it almost sank the ship. There are so many problems with jumping the gun on expanding not the least of which is that without the strength of a brand behind your name you are just another retail shop opening in some corner of nowhere. But those locations are a constant drain on your time and resources. My biggest mistake was a retail location in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was 800 miles away but going to be part of a flagship multi-business retail plaza that would draw incredible number of shoppers. It was a sure thing that wasn’t. We struggled there for a couple years before cutting our losses and leaving, stung with a six-figure mistake that finally taught me that success was in expanding your visibility not your real estate. Today, my sales are 5 times what they were back then and we do it all from our one facility in Marcellus. The last 5 years we have put our focus on building the brand and found that was how we would grow the business. I am approached constantly now about franchising Chocolate Pizza Company or opening up new locations but we’re content continuing to broaden the brand first.

    I have a strong sense of team. I played sports all my life but my experience in college as a walk-on place kicker at Syracuse University cemented that intense respect and fondness for a team. You learn to develop strong bonds quickly and you cling to those friendships through thick and thin. You don’t have to be the captain or the star to be drawn into the circle and impacted by the camaraderie. The rules are simple, teammates are teammates — everyone sweats together, everyone works hard in their role, everyone has the other guys back no questions asked. The shared experience, the common goals, the collective highs and lows earn you membership in that exclusive club. Team means something special to me so when I became a business owner, I brought that with me. I wanted to replicate the close environment and keep my team intact. There’s nothing wrong with that intention but the reality is that change is the one constant. I wish someone would have told me when I first started to lead Chocolate Pizza Company that I should expect the supporting cast in my business to change as the business changed. My dream was to quickly transform a small-town chocolate shop into an emerging national brand by totally reinventing the company. Change on that magnitude is messy, unsettling, and unpredictable. It is an evolving environment where some things work, some don’t, some don’t work like you expect so sometimes new faces and skill sets are necessary. With the exception of my family and my director of retail, Alyson, who joined us a year after I became the owner, my team now is different than it was a decade ago. Business changes and so do the players. Every person who has ever worked for my company is part of our success today. They each contributed greatly at the time and I am grateful to each one. It is like a college team; seniors graduate and move on, transfers come in and get adjusted, new recruits join the sideline, coaching positions change, responsibilities change, practice routines change — but the team moves forward together. Team is a concept not a face; it will evolve as it must and that in the end is a good thing.

    My grandfather took me hiking once in Colorado when I had just started high school. We set out to summit a challenging peak near his home in Durango. He had been a mountaineering guide in his youth and was quite experienced. The scenery was stunning — an impressive peak nestled in a remote range, no trails, no park rangers, no benches at scenic outlook spots — every spot was a postcard as we made our own way up the terrain. But early in the day it was obvious this was no picnic. The route was frequently treacherous, especially when we cleared the tree line and had to navigate loose rocks and uneven pitches. More ominous were the gathering storm clouds that transformed a clear blue sky into a grey caldron in the blink of an eye. We summited just in time to scramble for cover under a nearby overhang while Oden unleashed a barrage of thunder and lightning the like of which I had never seen. It was like scary as hell and yet I couldn’t help but admire how beautiful the view was from up there — a panorama that I knew few people had experienced. I’m cold, soaking wet, ducking with every bolt of lightning and crack of thunder but somehow incredibly proud that we made the trip, stood on the summit and were somehow surviving the apocalypse. That experience mirrors what running a business is like — you’ll need to take risks to enjoy a view few people ever know but be prepared to spend much of your journey scared out of your mind. I lost track of how many times I thought we wouldn’t be able to keep the lights on over the past 10 years. Heck, I was leaning over the edge staring into oblivion the first week I bought the business. No bank would finance a 21-year-old college senior in 2010 so to own Chocolate Pizza Company I had to negotiate a buy-out with the founder. I drained literally every nickel I had to my name. I didn’t have a dime left and it was July — the slowest month of the year for our retail store. My first view of the abyss was worrying I would not have enough money to make that first payroll. But no worries, if people don’t come to the chocolate shop, I’ll take the chocolate shop to them. And I did. I loaded the van with chocolate from the shelves and went anywhere I could find a crowd. I talked the hospital volunteers into letting me sell in the hospital cafeteria if I shared a portion with their group. I went to craft fairs and church basements. I stood outside the store in a Chocolate Pizza Slice costume I found in the backroom and waved at cars driving by. I made that first payroll and every payroll since, but you must be ready to dance along the edge of the cliff more than a few times to keep your doors open. That’s okay, the view is worth it.

    Science teaches that a gas will expand to fill the space available. It will fill every micron of room that it is given. Running a business has the same properties — it will fill every waking moment if you allow it. Giving your all to lead a business does not mean draining your life of everything else. Early on, it was impossible to see past the issues of the day — they just kept coming — wave after wave of things that demanded my attention, and got it. Trouble was, there never seemed to be a break, solve one crisis and another appeared, answer 10 emails and 20 more arrived, implement one idea and add 2 more to the to-do list. My first year as owner I was still a senior at Syracuse University finishing my bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship. My workload juggling school and running my business was insane so since my parent’s home was just a few blocks from the store some nights I would plan on staying there instead of returning to campus. My dad tells me on nights I didn’t come home he’d go to the store to see if I was okay and find me asleep in the back storage room. We had taken out the 3rd row of our van so we could haul more chocolate and the seat was kept in the back room. He’d find me asleep on that seat with my homework spread out across the floor where I had been trying to study. Dad would toss a blanket over me and let me sleep. I finished my degree on time and kept the business afloat that first year but it would be several more years before I figured out that you have to balance work and life to have both. Today, I enjoy as many sunsets as I can. We have a beautiful piece of property where the building we built is located and often the sunsets are stunning. I like to gather the family and step outside on those evenings when the sky is particularly impressive and spend a few minutes admiring the view. It’s kind of my reminder to keep things in balance. That would be a lesson I would have liked to have learned sooner.

    Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?

    I have definitely incorporated these 5 things into how I lead and how my company operates. They are lessons learned and adopted and make me more effective now than early in my leadership role. The most noticeable impact on my company is that I am far more in control of the operation now — not from a micromanagement standpoint but rather from a confidence perspective. I am much better at keeping a strategic view of what is happening instead of being absorbed and distracted by the inevitable daily challenges. The sense of calm that comes with that new found confidence is something I am sure my team appreciates.

    This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?

    I don’t know that having had this knowledge early on would have altered the course of my business. I think the path we take is the one we were meant to be on at the time, so I’ll go with the theory that experience is the best teacher. I do think what these insights might have done is lower the anxiety level a bit and there is certainly benefit to that. The burden to be successful is heavy because much rides on your decisions and abilities — not just for your future or livelihood but for those people who work for you, who believe in what you are doing and who go the extra mile to contribute to that success. It’s a very real responsibility and it should be heavy because families depend on it. So, any advantage or nugget of wisdom that makes the lift a little lighter has value in itself and that’s where I hope some of what I’ve shared today can be useful to others.

    You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

    A young person’s first job is a critical step in their maturity and reinforcing the value of work. The barrier now is that elevated minimum wage mandates are forcing employers to reduce the number of entry level hires and cut hours of existing staff. The result is fewer young people gain early work experience. I would institute a two-tier minimum wage system that incentivized employers to hire people 16–19 years old so that gaining a first job is easier, but you still protect older workers who needs a higher rate.

    How can our readers further follow your work online?

    The company’s website is and our social media pages are Facebook @chocolatepizzas or Instagram @chocolatepizzacompany.