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Hospitality has long been known as a family value, and every now and then it also becomes the family business. In Los Angeles’s thriving restaurant scene, two father/son sets paired up to bring hospitality from their home dining tables to a quick-service concept.
Nicholas Eckerman had a background in fine dining, working in food and beverage with the Ritz Carlton luxury hotel chain. In the spring of 2012, he got the idea to translate the level of customer service he found in fine dining into a fast-casual pizza concept. His father, Rodney Eckerman, brought up the idea over a round of golf with his former coworker Irv Zuckerman and his son, Jeff Zuckerman. The two fathers had worked together as co-CEOs at Clear Channel, a predecessor to the American entertainment company Live Nation, booking bands like U2, The Rolling Stones, and The Who.
Irv Zuckerman recognized that what the Eckermans were suggesting could become their next big act.
“Literally minutes later, we already had a business plan put together in rough sketch of what we wanted to do and what was to become PizzaRev,” he says. The father-son teams decided the “revolution” in PizzaRev would come from its speed, quality, and customizability. In short, they wanted to make pizza a viable lunch item without sacrificing customizability—as is inevitably the case with a by-the-slice heat-lamp setup.
Zuckerman is well aware of the saturation of the pizza market, but says he appraised the concept like he would a new band. “You take a band that’s early on in their careers and you decide to go with them based on a gut feeling, and you trust that they have what it takes to separate themselves from the others,” he says. “And that’s what we feel PizzaRev is.”
The idea is simple: Customers move down the line, selecting from more than 30 ingredients to top the brand’s better-for-you, thin-crust pizza as the pie is built in front of them and placed in an oven to be fired and ready in less than three minutes. Regardless of the number and type of toppings, each pizza costs $8.25.
Zuckerman says that, for the fathers, getting to work with their sons is the best topping on the line.
“I’m thrilled that it’s my son and [Eckerman]’s, because as an adult, you don’t get that opportunity to see what your kids do,” he says. “Things have worked great between the four of us, which I feel great about personally, beyond pizza. It’s a fascinating dynamic to be a part of.”
As another added benefit, he says, working with family eliminates communication barriers and allows for greater innovation and growth. The employer-employee dynamic—along with its limitations—is foregone within the four-partner family group, with the fathers operating as co-CEOs once more, Jeff Zuckerman acting as the brand’s chief marketing officer, and Nicholas Eckerman as chief operating officer. Working together as partners spring-boarded the relationship between the father-son sets into a broader arena where Zuckerman hopes the product of their collaboration—PizzaRev—will thrive.
With nearly 30 locations, a handful of new franchises coming down the pipeline this year, a recent equity investment from Buffalo Wild Wings, and plans to build a delivery program, it seems as though the family band at PizzaRev is finding success with a national fan base.
By Emily Byrd