After 14 years in the pizza business, Cody Swank has taken over a successful Seminole Heights restaurant and is looking to compound the brand's success.
Swank began working at Stephanno's Pizzeria two years ago after long stints at Bruno's and other pizza shops around town. Having worked around hand-made pies since the age of 14, Swank had always dreamed of owning his own pizza parlor. In April, his dream came true, as he purchased Stephanno's outright.
"I'm not afraid to tell people that I'm running the place because I was here for two years before I bought it, so not much is changing," Swank said. "If it isn't broke, don't fix it. I still follow all the same recipes, and I just want people to know that nothing is changing really. We're just going to add some things like a kids menu and spice up the menu a bit."
Part of the allure that led to Swank buying Stephanno's was the location. Located right off Florida Avenue, Swank knew there was potential for growth within a supportive community in Seminole Heights.
"Everybody has been really excited and congratulatory about me owning it," Swank said. "We've got a great staff and our customers know us. I mean, our driver has been here four years, so when people come in, they sit down at the counter and they talk with us. It's nice to have this area and have a relationship with the customer."
The restaurant carries a family atmosphere from the time a customer walks in the front door and sees Swank's 13-year old son, Javonte, working alongside his father.
"I couldn't have my 13-year old son working with me if I owned a Pizza Hut," Swank said. "This really is a family spot. I have a 9-year-old and 10-year-old that come in and hang out too. We want to get a television so people can bring their families and come in to watch football on Sundays. We're that kind of place."
The food at Stephanno's is a reflection of the effort that is put into it. With homemade dough and sauce, the pizza is a conscious effort to replicate true New York thin crust pizza, but it's some of the other menu items that seem to impress Seminole Heights Patch readers the most.
The focaccia bread used on sandwiches like the chicken parmesan is a recipe that takes six hours to complete. Topped with carmelized onions, this special recipe creates a bread that is both savory and sweet, slapped together with juicy breaded chicken and a smattering of melted cheese and marinara sauce.
While Swank is attempting to grow his customer base with new menu items and old classics alike, it's the classics like Stephanno's famous garlic knots that keep the business thriving.
"They're made with a really high quality butter for the topping," Swank said. "There are some ingredients in there that we keep a secret, but the butter and homemade dough is what makes them what they are."
In the future, Swank hopes the restaurant's lunch business picks up. Boasting specials like two slices and a drink for $5, he may just have a decent chance of doing so.
"We're doing great for dinner time and we do a lot of catering during the day, but I want to get lunches going too," Swank said. "We've got a great patio out back and good specials."
Stephanno's is unable to sell alcohol due to its close proximity to a local church and children's center, but guests are welcome to bring beer or wine and use the restaurant's coolers to keep it refrigerated.
For more information about Stephanno's Pizzeria, visit their Facebook page or call (813) 232-9486.
Do you love Stephanno's, or are you loyal to another local pizzeria? Tell us your favorite place for pizza in Seminole Heights in our Reader's Choice contest by leaving the name of your favorite in the comments section.