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Couple expands on pizza offerings at Whitey's

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Steve White (right), owner of Whitey's Peetza & Eatery in Coral, discusses the luncheon menu with (from left) kitchen staff Jeremiah Weaver of Homer City and Greta Bongianino of Blairsville.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Owner Steve White greets patrons from behind the bar in the tap room at Whitey's Peetza & Eatery of Coral.

In just a few short years, Whitey's Peetza & Eatery has been able to carve out a niche that sets it apart from the stereotypical image of the average pizza parlor. The restaurant's success has come as no surprise to its owners, husband-and-wife team Steve and Megan White.

When the Whites bought a shuttered pizza shop in Coral, their intention was to create a “destination spot.” It was 2010, the height of “The Great Recession,” so naysayers, who know the discouraging statistics of restaurant survival even in good times, saw the uncertainty in the endeavor.

“Honestly, that wasn't even on my radar,” Steve White said. “My wife and I just wanted to get into it, work the business and allow it to do what it could do, and what it's done in the last three years was grow from 25 seats to 220.”

White, in fact, believes the business is stronger because it was launched during hard times. Now that there is an uptick in the economy, the hard lessons he's learned have helped to improve his bottom line.

The village of Coral, located south of Homer City, wouldn't normally be considered a hot spot for dining. But the community can be quickly accessed from nearby Route 119, and White, with a background in real estate, knows the significance of the old phrase “location, location, location,”

With good signage directing potential patrons from the four-lane highway, where PennDot says more than 10,000 motorists travel daily, Whitey's funnels off new quick-stoppers everyday. At the same time, the Whites are continuing to cultivate a growing following of loyal regulars at the quaint spot.

Making it a point to be visible, the Whites visit tables to ensure their customers are satisfied, comfortable and well-served. “Every day, I meet new people. They're from all over — Punxy, Latrobe, Greensburg, Ligonier, you name it,” Steve White noted.

Starting out with a business plan they developed with the help of Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Small Business Development Center, the Whites shopped around for financing to purchase the small pizza shop and attendant liquor license and to start initial renovations. The immediate result was a one-room pizza and sandwich shop with limited seating and take-out orders.

“It was basically my idea and something I really wanted to do, and my wife is just very supportive and along for the ride,” Steve White said of the family's business venture. “We both put in long hours at our other jobs, but one of us is always (at the restaurant).”

Attention to detail and cleanliness and elimination of waste have been the three main ingredients in the eatery's success, White explained. Then, when the business called for growth over the course of three years, the Whites reinvested.

Today, three years and $350,000 later, Whitey's Peetza & Eatery is a full-blown restaurant with an executive chef, three separate dining areas, an expanded banquet room, a 1,400-square-foot tap room with a fully stocked bar, outdoor dining areas and a menu that ranges from pizza and sandwiches to filet mignon. There is also an entire array of gluten-free options.

“We've encouraged our chef (Nate Cobaugh) and staff to think outside the box to create dishes and weekly specials, to improve the customer's experience and to go with the times,” Steve White said.

Keeping with the times, the restaurant features modern software and a point-of-sale system that helps monitor such factors as product and waste and a cost analysis to give insight into managing payroll.

In addition, Whitey's has cultivated a website and connected with its customer base through social networking for marketing and online ordering. “We also have over 5,000 elite Diners Club members that we text and communicate regularly with,” said White.

Multiple reviews of Whitey's have been posted on various websites, and the owners also keep close tabs on their own Facebook page.

The online reviews and feedback can be considered a sign that the establishment is developing into the “destination spot” that White dreamed of. Reviewers hail from spots scattered across the state, as well as from Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y.

“I love it when people come in expecting a little, rundown pizza joint, and they come in and see the place and our menu. I'm not kidding when I say their eyes light up,” said a proud Steve White. “We've come a long way with the place already, and I still have ideas that may or may not pan out. The thing is you've got to wait and see and then strike when the opportunity is right.”

Spencer Sadler is a freelance writer.

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