A passion for cuisine and a vision for a franchise is often the goal for restaurateurs. Any restaurateur can dream of the day when their ideas manifest, but only a few are lucky enough to see their dreams manifest physically. For the past two years, Slice of Columbia has exceeded expectations and maintained its success and consistency from the food it serves and the community it impacts. Located in Columbia, SC, Slice of Columbia is a Black-owned, family-run business that has remained a fan favorite in the metro area when it comes to traditional-style pizza. Garnet & Black sat down with the owner, Earl Cooper, to discuss what it’s like being a local business in Columbia while navigating the harsh waters of a global pandemic.
What inspired you to get started in the food industry?
So I have always loved pizza. My whole life, I’ve always loved it and it was just something that made sense to me. As for starting out the business, I knew it would just be another chain that I’d have to really commit to and work for. I just wanted to try something different and bring my own creative twist to the pizza industry here in Columbia.
I’m sure we all love pizza in Columbia but I want to know, why pizza? What’s the connection between the food on the menu and you personally?
As I mentioned before, I just love pizza and have grown up eating it my whole life. It was the go-to meal every Friday night for my family and I and we’ve been pretty big fans of it. We've got more items on the menu now including wings, pasta and salads, but we knew that our main theme would be pizza if we opened up a chain here.
So what’s the vision for the restaurant? Where do you see the restaurant in 5 to 10 years?
It’s only something we’ve had for a couple of years but we’re looking to expand into other states and hopefully start a franchise. Columbia was a good starting point for us because we’ve lived here. I grew up in Columbia, went to high school here, so it was a good starting point for the family. I have another food restaurant here in Columbia, so managing businesses is obviously a commitment that I understand. But hopefully, an expansion would really live out the rest of the restaurant. We’re hoping to actually be franchised across the Southeast region, maybe getting some locations in Georgia and other states. Being able to expand this place with my family would be a huge accomplishment.
You guys have mentioned that you're a family-owned restaurant. What’s it like balancing work and life?
It was challenging at first, but at the same time, it is truly rewarding to be able to work with my family. Just working with my mother, daughter and other relatives makes handling finances and other departments a lot easier. The trust is there and we really enjoy that about the restaurant. But we also have increased our staff and we even hired more employees and have close to around 13 at the moment. We consider them family as well; we truly love the atmosphere of working here every day. More so, I couldn’t be more proud of [my daughter] Kaylan as well. She’s been a huge help in managing the social media aspect and getting the word out to the community. I definitely couldn’t do all that, so I guess you could say it’s all a big team effort.
What were the initial challenges of getting started as a Black-owned restaurant in Columbia? How has the restaurant been able to overcome the hurdles of establishing itself in the community?
It was initially challenging just getting the word out and letting people know we were there. As a start-up business, it doesn’t just take off from the beginning. So being able to sustain from the hard and slow times was the process we had to go through. Thankfully, we’re at a time now where we’re seeing more businesses like these established. When I was growing up, it was definitely a lot harder to confront the challenges of starting a business. But I definitely give a lot of credit to the community around Columbia when it comes to our success. People do support our cause and our background, so it’s a big help in facing the challenges knowing we have a lot more support from the community.
This is a tough time for some businesses with the current pandemic. What was your reaction when COVID hit Columbia?
It was very scary at first. When COVID hit, we didn’t know what was going to happen with the restaurant. In the beginning, restaurants had certain limitations where they could only do take-out and not dine-in. We honestly weren’t sure if we were going to be able to survive or not. However, as more time went on some of these limitations were alleviated and we were able to get some things back to normal. Now, our business is doing just fine and people still come in and order pizza just like they did before the virus.
You and your family have successfully built a restaurant in a competitive food industry. What would you say is the restaurant’s proudest achievement so far?
I would definitely say consistency. Being able to stay open for two years has been our biggest accomplishment so far. Most new restaurants close within a year but we were able to overcome that start-up hurdle. Not only did we stay open, but we maintained during a pandemic without having to lay off any employees. That in itself is something that we couldn’t be more proud of.
What’s your message to other local businesses? Do you have any advice for those who are looking to get started?
Keep swinging the bat and eventually, you’ll hit. I really just want to tell people to go for whatever it is they’re gunning for. Having that courage in taking new steps and keeping your dreams alive is really what gets things done. For us still being here and going strong is a testament to what I believe in and I hope that others can realize that success can be attained when you reach for it.