NEW BETHLEHEM – Hoping to raise some dough for a car, Zack Blose took a part-time, high school job at a local pizzeria. Instead, it became the vehicle for his successful culinary career.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Western Pennsylvania District honored Blose, owner and chef at Zack’s Restaurant May 14, as Young Entrepreneur of the Year. The ceremony coincided with the nation’s 56th celebration of National Small Business Week, held each May.
“It’s pretty cool to be selected,” Blose said. “I was actually surprised I won.”
Blose’s award-winning nomination was submitted by the Clarion University Small Business Development Center where Blose is a client. His recipe for success: attending culinary school, adding a list of practical experience to his cookbook, purchasing the pizzeria where he was employed a decade earlier and receiving assistance from the business counselors at Clarion University SBDC.
“I needed a job and the shop was affordable,” he explained. “I didn’t know the SBDC even existed; once people found out I wanted to buy the shop they told me to go there for free help until I opened up my business.”
SBA Western Pennsylvania District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt, a former young entrepreneur, welcomes the fresh ideas and energy youthful business owners bring to the table. She’s pleased the community recommended Clarion University’s SBDC to Blose. “They cover 10 counties and do tremendous work providing free, confidential business counseling; offering a variety of classes designed to help new and current business owners.”
SBDCs are SBA and state-funded entities helping small businesses in every phase of development.
“In Western Pennsylvania, we have eight SBDCs, one Women’s Business Center, and four SCORE chapters comprised of current and retired volunteer executives,” said Hunt. “And the best part is the counseling services are free and confidential.”
Once Blose opened, he tossed around ideas as much as dough.
“After a year, there were about five more pizza shops in the area,” he said. “So, I created themed ethnic nights offering German and Chinese food and people loved it.”
Within a year, Blose topped off his business plan by moving to a larger location to provide the community with a full-service, sit-down restaurant and catering business. His family became an integral part of the business; balancing the books, cooking desserts and coordinating the catering schedule which comprises one-third of the revenues.
Blose’s culinary reputation coupled with a new eatery created instant buzz in the small town — with the restaurant boasting more than 1,000 Facebook page likes before its grand opening. However, it was an unexpected egg delivery that would change both Blose’s menu and commitment to area farmers.
“One day, John Gruber, owner of Gruber Farms stopped in with some eggs for me to use,” Blose said. “So, I decided to start a farm-to-table movement and each local farm name is in front of the dish bearing its ingredients.”
These days, cheese and sausage still are part of the menu; but instead of pizza toppings, today they are locally sourced ingredients gracing specialty meals. And, each Monday and Tuesday, Blose drives to more than a half-dozen farms in and around Clarion County purchasing his farm-to-table ingredients: eggs, beef, pork, poultry and wine with a stop in Pittsburgh for fresh greens. He incorporates them into an ever-evolving menu that encourages patrons to try different dishes.
“The farmers do come into the restaurant to eat and it makes them feel so connected,” Blose stated. “And, all of this evolved out of those eggs.”
This summer, Blose is taking his farm-to-table campaign one step further creating a Summer Farm Fest.
“We’re building a full, five-course meal and wine tasting around our local farms,” he explained. “We’ll have live entertainment; a farmer’s market; petting zoo; and games.”
Blose, who doesn’t expect to earn a profit from the event, says it’s a shout-out for those local farmers he regularly patronizes. “That’s really my favorite part of the job, driving around the area and buying everything from homemade maple syrup to roasted coffee beans.”
Surrounded by his 10-member restaurant family, Blose not only dazzles with his creative culinary skills, which he shares via social media videos, he can be found everywhere in the kitchen. “I do food prep: chopping and dicing and then cooking; and I’ll clean up afterwards, too.” he said.
“The Blose family is an exemplary entrepreneur proving why small business owners are essential to American economic growth,” added Hunt. “They give back to the community in so many ways; from providing a first job to creating a unique food festival just to honor those hard-working farmers in our rural towns.”
Those farmers and Hunt honored Blose at a special mixer May 14.
“It’s always gratifying to learn the community is so proud they’re planning their own celebration for a Small Business Week winner,” Hunt added.