Kirk Vartan of A Slice of New York
An exclusive eskca interview with Kirk Vartan (co-founder) of A Slice of New York, which was honored in our:
Tell us your origin story. How did you come to be involved with A Slice of New York?
I started A Slice of New York in 2006 after I left my high-tech job. I moved to San Jose, CA back in 1998 to work at Cisco and quickly came to find that I was continually pissed about the lack of pizza options. I told Benny from my neighborhood pizza shop (Ultimate Pizza) to come out here and start a place. With so many NY transplants here, I just knew he could make it work. He told me to find a place and he’d help; that was not my plan.
I grew up in midtown Manhattan and I wanted to find a neighborhood pizza shop like I grew up with, getting a slice when I wanted. I was in corporate for over eight years, and when I was done with the frustrations of corporate politics, I looked to my next chapter. I still had not found a pizza shop like I grew up with back home, so I said, “How hard can it be? I’ll do it.” I was joking, of course, but not really. I reconnected with Benny in 2005 and said, “I think I found a place.” I came home, worked with his team for a weekend, and got some starter recipes and ingredients to use. A year later, we opened A Slice of New York on September 19, 2006, eight days after our target date of 9/11. The reality is, A Slice of New York was born on 9/11/01, when part of me died that day. I wanted to create something that would honor New York in some way. I did not know it would be a pizza shop; that’s just what it turned out to be.
We try to create slices that anyone from NYC would be proud to enjoy and call their own. I judge our business like this: If I were to drop our shop into my neighborhood in midtown Manhattan, would I support it. And so far, the answer is yes. We make what I expect to eat when I go home. And without Benny at Ultimate Pizza on 57th St and 1st Ave, this never would have happened. When you come in, not only do you get NY pizza, you get visuals and a feeling of being back home. And in July 2017, A Slice of New York became the first brick-and-mortar Worker Cooperative in Silicon Valley, meaning 13 workers equally own and democratically govern the business. I hope you will come in and enjoy what we have created.
What were the biggest hurdles you encountered in your journey?
Staying the course when things got bumpy. Building out a business is hard, takes time, and lots of money. Construction always takes longer and always costs more than planned. Make sure you have the money to finish the build-out and can pay for rent, utilities, and payroll for 6+ months. Do not get into the trap of having your business live week-to-week. You will go insane. And don’t doubt yourself or your vision.
What does the future hold for you and A Slice of New York?
We are a Worker Cooperative, meaning we are 100% employee owned. We have 13 owners (equal ownership) and the governance of our company is managed by the Board that is elected by the members (owners). I think we could have 10+ ASONY’s in the Bay Area. And if that is what our owners want to do, I will support that!
What are your thoughts on the food scene in San Jose?
When I first moved to San Jose in the late 90s, I was pretty disappointed. People’s expectation of food was pretty low and that translated to very mediocre food options, many being corporate chains. Things have gotten a little better, but this area is still dominated by corporate chains, and that is pretty sad to see for one of the wealthiest places in the country with one of the highest costs of living. I’m not saying we are the best place to eat in Silicon Valley, but I will say I think we offer the best NY pizza in Silicon Valley. That’s me speaking as a New Yorker, not the founder.
What’s your best advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
If you have a dream or vision for a business (whether food or not), lean into it. Don’t doubt your ideas because everyone around you will do that for you. Only you know what your idea really looks and feels like. You are the one that needs to invest your time and passion into it so it becomes what you want. No one truly knows what you know.
Our readers love recommendations! What’s your favorite dish at A Slice of New York?
I’m a plain slice kind of guy (just cheese). That’s where I would start at any place. Try that and see how the holy trinity tastes (dough, sauce, and cheese). There is no place to hide when you have a slice of cheese. If that works, then go ahead and add things. We have some other great items (e.g., our version of garlic knots, the ASONY Margarita, a Chicken Parm Hero, cannoli, etc.). Basically, if it’s not good, we don’t serve it. Pretty much everything we make is awesome, and that’s no joke.