Business owner credits community for success

If the cliché is true that self-made men seldom credit those who gave them their start, then Joe Kelly of Whitehall is not a self-made man.

Whether they want to be known or not, Kelly recently named each and every supporter who helped him make Joe’s Pizza on Broadway a reality.

Kelly, who may as well have kissed the Blarney Stone, so great is his gift of the gab, spilled out the names of his intellectual and financial supporters, one right after another.

A 1995 graduate of Whitehall High School, Kelly admitted to being a “talk-a-holic” who often “took the easy way out” in school. But it was a Bob Aunchman, a business teacher, who got Kelly to think about his future.

“I took accounting from Mr. Aunchman. He was the first guy to ask me what I was going to do after high school. And I said, ‘Open a shop, a pizzeria.’“

Operating a pizza shop requires, of course, knowledge of Italian-American fare, and not just pizza. During high school, Kelly worked for Jim Norton, who then ran Uncle Vito’s Pizza.

“It was Jimmy Norton who taught me how to make dough, how to make the sauce.”

After Norton and after high school came a fairly long apprenticeship with Gregg Knapp, then owner of several pizza shops, most notably the Hampton House.

“Gregg made a Pizza-Hut style pizza,” Kelly said. “You can even get the recipe on line.”

Inspired by one school teacher, and two pizza makers, Kelly seriously started to think about opening his own shop. Norton admonished him to go out on his own.

“Jimmy Norton said to me, ‘You are doing everything an owner does for $6 an hour. You’ve got to strike out on your own. You can do it.”

Birth of son provides motivation

Stopping suddenly in his narrative, Kelly mentioned another teacher, Nancy Fragnoli, who had helped nurture his dream of opening a shop to make pizza, a dish as old as ancient Rome. By now, Kelly had acquired five supporters: himself, Aunchman, Fragnoli, Norton and Knapp. But he said it was the birth of his son, Chris, who proved the key to his engine.

“Chris has been my drive,” Kelly said. “And now, it is Chris and my daughter, Jennifer. She’s 10.”

A pizza maker needs a pizza shop, and that is where Kelly said Bob Duncan entered the picture. Kelly said Duncan, at his own expense, moved his video store to the left in order to give Kelly room to open his shop at 132 Broadway.

“Bob said to me, ‘I’ll give you a year rent-free.”

And as for the half-addition that Duncan built?

“He said you can reimburse me half of the cost later.”

Like Walt Disney, Kelly dislikes bankers

Kelly slapped his hand lightly but firmly in agreement, when he was told that a slightly more famed entrepreneur, Walt Disney, had built Disneyland largely through the cooperation of other businessmen, steering clear of bankers, whom he disliked.

“Absolutely, I hate bankers. They will not help you. All of my financing has been by personal loans.”

Kelly, instead, has had several private financial backers over the years

“I can. I tell you, without the people of Whitehall, I would not have made it,” he said.

With the people of Whitehall behind him, Kelly has expanded and modernized his business, installing a roof and siding, adding a room for a liquor store, and converting the garage out back into a self-enclosed and self-contained bottle recycling and redemption center.

Kelly said the bottle recycling shop was the easiest of his ventures to launch. Obtaining the state liquor license to open a liquor store was the hardest.

Throughout his nearly 20-year career as an entrepreneur, Kelly’s ups and downs, he admits, have resembled a roller coaster ride, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

“I’m here to stay. I’ll stay here in Whitehall until I die.”

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