Jul 20, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Six years ago when Ryan Novak told Bonnie Hanyak, founder of The Chocolate Pizza Company in Marcellus, that he would one day own her store, he was only half kidding.
He was 15 at the time, and first starting as an employee. Now, as a 21-year-old with one semester left at Syracuse University, he’s the bona fide owner of the unique chocolate shop once featured on Food Network’s hit show “Unwrapped.”
“It’s such a great business, such a great idea,” he said. “It’s so nice to just be able to bring joy to people.”
Owning The Chocolate Pizza Company has been a dream of Novak’s for as long as he can remember. It didn’t hurt that, as a kid, the shop was located across the street from his home on South Street.
“When I was six or seven I would go over there and look for samples,” he said. When he was a toddler his mother would take him around the store in a stroller, and he’d reach for chocolate from there.
Hanyak will stay on as store manager at least until Novak finishes his business degree at SU. She is retiring to spend more time with her family; her husband had a heart transplant a year ago, from which he has recovered well.
“Owning a business doesn’t allow you a whole lot of free time, and I’m sure Ryan can verify that already,” she said.
Hanyak admits selling the store to Novak was not a quick decision.
“After much thought and consideration, I absolutely feel that he’s going to be able to take this to the next level that I could not,” she said.
Novak is a dean’s list student at SU’s Whitman School of Management where he will finish his bachelor’s in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises in December. He was a place kicker for SU football for two years — and a top 25 recruit among kickers when he graduated from Marcellus High School in 2006.
He transferred to Temple this past fall where he spent one semester. Novak had high hopes for football, but after problems with his leg took him off the field at Temple, he decided to return home.
“It’s just a really tough world to make it in. I decided to go pro in something other than sports,” he said. “I spend 15 or 16 hours a day here and I just love it — wouldn’t trade it for a thing.”
As a student at the Whitman School, Novak’s had the opportunity to network with and receive advice from the best. He spent the spring semester preparing for the task in front of him, “working on marketing plans, learning how to work with banks.”
“The professors have been great,” he said.
Novak has plans to expand the store as well. He just put up a new, more user-friendly website (ChocolatePizza.com) on Monday and hopes to boost the store’s corporate thank you gift business. If all goes according to plan, there might even be a couple more Chocolate Pizza Companies in the area before too long.
“We’re going to try and add a few more stores. Slowly, maybe one a year or so,” he said. “We’ve been told many times that if we had a store in Fayetteville or the Manlius area that that would just be great for us.”
The Chocolate Pizza Company is almost as young as Novak, as it opened on North Street in Marcellus in 1988. In its 22 years of operation, it’s moved seven times within the town, usually to a bigger location. Hanyak feels indebted to the customers who have stayed with her through it all.
“I appreciate all they’ve done for me,” Hanyak said. “And I will miss all of my customers without a doubt.”
But for now she’ll still be around to greet customers and witness Novak’s “ambitions, his energy, his dreams for the company” take off.
“I’m so excited about the opportunity,” Novak said, “and we’re going to do great things and build upon Bonnie’s good foundation.”
What’s a chocolate pizza?
A chocolate pizza is a disk of premium chocolate blended with a near century-old English toffee recipe and topped with almonds, pecans, walnuts and a white chocolate drizzle. It’s served in a pizza box and often accompanied by “wings” — peanut butter covered potato chips dipped in chocolate.