by Pete Zamplas-The Blue Ridge Pizza Company in the heart of Etowah is expanding its customer base, facilities and service.
Tom and Linda Sanders and their grown children Tommy Sanders and Leigh Owens all equally own Blue Ridge Pizza. They started it four years ago.
Blue Ridge Pizza is flourishing, despite recession. “This year, our sales are 100 percent ahead of last year,” Tom said. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds,” son Tommy said. “We have blueprints to expand the kitchen” by building more space in front.
The Sanders have boldly expanded into a second dining room, then a lounge last summer. That is when they bought the four-bay strip mall at 6336 Brevard Road (U.S. 64 West).
They increased seating by 50 percent, up to 156. That includes patio seating for 36 people out front. The restaurant will add breakfast, via a drive-through annex in what was the adjacent gas station. That structure will also be a banquet hall. The Sanders family should soon finalize the purchase of that property, renovate and open it by next spring, and use the back for parking, Tom Sanders added.
The staff steadily enlarged from a handful to 22 people currently, he said.
The most-ordered of nine specialty pizzas is the loaded Fat Gary (Italian sausage, ground beef, ham, pepperoni, bacon, onions, mushrooms and green pepper). Leigh and Linda initiated much of the menu. The Sanders Special Sauce is mayonnaise-based, with several ingredients for a “zesty” flavor, he said. As Tom Sr. notes, “We make our sauces, dough and (grinder) sandwich bread from scratch several times a day.” Grinder bread is also sold by the loaf.
Top-selling sandwich is Sydney’s Club, named after Leigh’s daughter who turns 12 in two weeks. She was born on “9/11” (Sept. 11, 2001). Sept. 11 is also the birthday of Tom, and Tom’s late mother.
The special ingredient to business success, Tom said, is realizing “the customer is king.” A table seating 12 is set aside for local Flavor 1st, for dinner every Friday night.
Blue Ridge Pizza gives half-price discounts to accredited police and fire-rescue workers, and donates 10 percent of proceeds to a school upon advance request, Tom Sanders said. These “spirit days” are held up to twice monthly.
Blue Ridge Pizza has become a popular hot spot, beyond locals. “We have regulars from Flat Rock, Fletcher, Brevard and South Asheville,” Tommy Sanders noted. “We still get about five new customers every day.”
Etowah is midway between Hendersonville and Brevard, and thus a stop for those heading back from hiking in DuPont State Forest or Pisgah National Forest. “Some hike with their dogs, then stop here on the way home,” Tommy said. “A few dogs get to eat pizza crust, and leftovers.” Tethered pets are allowed on the outdoor patio.
The restaurant is open daily to 8 p.m., and an hour later on Fridays. Friday evenings are extra busy before West Henderson High football or volleyball contests, with many wearing Falcon gear. Much takeout is after work, and in-dining often peaks at 5:30-6:30 p.m., Tommy noted.
The bar opens at 4 p.m. daily, gets busier about 6 p.m. and stays open until the “late night crowd” dissipates, Tommy said. The bar is open “all day” on weekends, when patrons watch college and pro football on television. Blue Ridge Pizza has eight TVs, up to 55 inches in size.
Meal business picked up after a county-wide vote in May 2012 allowed selling beer and wine by the drink in such restaurants, in previously-dry unincorporated Henderson County. Beer accounts for merely six percent of the restaurant’s gross receipts, but more people dine to sip beer or wine with their meal, Tom explained. He emphasized, “This isn’t a ‘beer joint.’ We don’t allow rowdy behavior.”
The Sanders family is from Memphis, Tenn.’s Germantown suburb. The family link to the food business is Tom’s now-deceased father, Roy. He sold barbecue out of their home after World War II, and was known as the “godfather of Memphis BBQ,” Tom said. Tom Sanders Sr., 71, was an all-Memphis prep football star.
Tom worked in office equipment. He was Canon’s top-selling regional sales manager, in the Eighties. Then he ran his Federal Graphics in Memphis in 1989-95, before selling it to Ikon. He ran it an extra year, for transition. Tom’s product, a risograph high-volume scanner-printer, outdid purple “ditto” sheets.
Tommy also operated a business in Memphis, in printing for nine years. He turned 40 on Aug. 21.
In 1996, Tom retired. He and Linda traveled cross-country, in a motor home. He missed working. In 2009, he convinced Tommy to join in a move to this area and to run a business together. They got nurse Leigh to join in.
“I had no ‘idear’ what kind of business we’d come up with, in the middle of the recession,” Tom said. “I’m sure glad we did this.” Linda said with a smile “We’re all back together.” Leigh said “it’s absolutely wonderful working around my family.”
Call 891-5648, for more about Blue Ridge Pizza Company.