By Stacey O’Connor
In 2015, small businesses in Connecticut employed almost half of the private workforce. And while Connecticut still falls in the middle of the pack in terms of unemployment rates in the country (we rank 23rd with a 4.4 unemployment rate), it is easy to imagine how much worse that ranking would be without these brave small business owners. The risks are high, and the rewards are often illusive, yet creative entrepreneurs are still willing to take that risk. In a 2005 study by Cornell University, it was estimated that 62% of privately owned restaurants fail in their first year. 62 percent! That is a 62% chance of losing your life savings. A 62% chance that the dream you’ve dreamt of your entire life will fail. A 62% chance that you’ll go back to working 70+ hours a week for someone else. But depending on how you look at it, it also means that there is a 38% chance that you will succeed. A 38% chance that even without a college degree, the idea of the American Dream is still real, and with dedication and hard work, you can raise your children in a way that your parents weren’t able to raise you.
At One 6 Three the Pizza Joint on Foster Street in New Haven, Andrew Holmes and Alexa Flagge have decided to fight against the odds and imagine an outcome that places them on the 38% success side instead of the 62% failure side of that statistic. Already they are beating the odds. The couple bought the small corner restaurant, formally known as Angelo’s, redid the inside with their bare hands, created an innovated pizza and small plates menu, crossed their fingers and their hearts and opened one year ago.
So far so good. If you ask them why they have been able to stay open, why their restaurant is almost always full on a weekend evening, and why the phones are always ringing, they’ll tell you it’s because they have great customers. And they do. The East Rock neighborhood has been extremely welcoming. The patrons are a wonderful mix of Yale grad students who come in between tests and papers, professors from the local Universities who bring their families for dinner, high school kids who order personal pies before and after their practices, and young, hip couples who venture in for date nights. They love the menu (The Memphis: A pizza with BBQ sauce, pulled pork, feta cheese, blueberries, and caramelized onions. The Quebec Style Poutine: Hand cut French fries, beef gravy, and Wisconsin cheese curds ordered and shipped in especially for this dish. The Goat: A white pie with sautéed asparagus, caramelized onions, honey-goat cheese, drizzled with basil and cranberry jam aioli). They love the BYOB policy. And if you ask One 6 Three’s customers why The Pizza Joint has been able to make a name for itself among the best pizza places in the country, they will tell you that the success is due to the dedicated owners.
Andrew and Alexa work, as most small business owners will tell you, upwards of 70-80 hours a week. Newly engaged (he proposed to her at the restaurant right after New Year’s!) they spend their date nights, anniversaries, and weekends out, at the restaurant together. Alexa is more focused on the front of the house. She creates the dishes that show up on the menu. Restaurants are in her blood. Her parents, Jack and Janet opened and ran a successful deli, The Deli, in East Haven for years. Eventually, they sold the Deli and opened an Italian restaurant in Boca Raton Florida. After that, they moved back to Connecticut and began creating a fleet of catering pizza trucks, Old World Pizza Truck. Alexa has worked on the trucks for the last ten years. This is where she met Andrew. At 29, Andrew has spent the majority of his adult life covered in pizza dough. He started as a dishwasher at Valley View Pizza in Seymour. The Albanian owners taught him the art of throwing dough when he was just 15. From that moment on, it seemed that he couldn’t stray far from a pizza restaurant.
With the help of Jack and Janet, the two took a huge risk and opened a restaurant. When you are sitting at their copper bar, watching your pizza cook in the brick oven, you can look over and see Andrew tossing dough. Ask him about his 7-year-old son, Noah. Ask him about his love of CrossFit, his obsession with self-help books, or the personal battles he has fought and won in his life. Or, you can look toward the register and see Alexa cooking up new ideas for the menu. Ask her about her family (you can usually find at least one of her immediate or extended Greek/Italian family members visiting The Joint). Ask her about her borderline obsession with cats, or how much she loves being a step-mom to Noah. Walking into One 6 Three is like coming home. Especially if your home is filled with artisan pizzas, innovate small plates, a ton of hard work, laughter, and a group of people who love each other, and are just trying to make their dreams come true.