1st Avenue Pizza Owner Serves Up Humble Pie

June 1, 2018
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1st Avenue Pizza in Atlantic Highlands recently held a grand re-opening to announce a new pact with customers. Photo by Chris Rotolo

By Chris Rotolo | 

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Delayed openings, early closings and unfilled orders are not the trademarks of a successful business.

The owner of 1st Avenue Pizza, Ben Lonza, admits he’s stumbled in recent months.

But instead of making excuses, Lonza recently took a bold step to bluntly own up to his missteps on the Atlantic Highlands, NJ Facebook group page, a community forum with 4,751 members, and promised to do better.

“At the beginning of this adventure I was full of life, ambition and passion to build my business. But somewhere along the way I lost sight of that goal. I began operating in a way that was selfish, destructive and irresponsible,” Lonza said in the May 10 post.

Lonza pledged to right his ship of pies. He announced he was pushing reset, with a grand reopening on May 11 and a hope the community would accept his sincerity.

In an interview with The Two River Times later that day, Lonza reflected. “There’s no guidebook for business owners to admit something like that to the community they operate in,” said the native of Brielle who graduated from Christian Brothers Academy in 2013 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies at High Point University.

“It was a risk to make that post. But I bought this place to build it up and make it a staple in this community. And the only way to do that is to be honest with my community members and honest with myself about the situation. I fell out of rhythm. I fell off the path, but it’s time to get back on the horse.”

Business owner Ben Lonza took a brave step in admitting his failures on the community Facebook page. Many responded with encouragement. Photo by Chris Rotolo

Lonza’s confession wasn’t just met with forgiveness, but a wave of support. As of Tuesday, his post had received 340 “likes,” 127 comments and 27 shares.

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“It’s tough to admit fault and be accountable for your action,” wrote Concetta Sasso Alvarez on Facebook. “No doubt you will get a second chance. Your sincerity will win over old and new customers. Now, go get ‘em, and make it a great place.”

“I don’t know many people who would post something so honest,” added Vicki Ford. “It says a lot about your character. Best of luck!”

As his cellphone buzzed and sputtered with each new comment and notification, Lonza admitted he was touched.

“I was blown away. I’ve lived in a few different places around the state of New Jersey and I’ve never witnessed a community quite like this one. This is a community that acts like a family, a family that time and time again proves it’s willing to lift each other up. It’s not just in my case. It’s not just a small seaside town. It’s a family in every sense.”

Lonza purchased 1st Avenue Pizza nearly 13 months ago with no food industry experience.

“The extent of my cooking ability in college was ramen noodle soup and sometimes I would forget to put water in and all I’d end up with was burnt noodles,” he quipped. “The first pizza I ever made was the first day I got situated in here. It took about 200 pies before I really got the hang of it.”

His current menu includes salad, cold and hot sandwiches, calzones, Stromboli, a few Italian dinner specialties and 13 kinds of pizza pies – including the signature First Ave. Special made with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, peppers and olives ($15.99).

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As for the future of 1st Avenue Pizza, Lonza isn’t willing to look too far ahead, admitting that sort of approach contributed to his business’ recent lapse.

“I have no plans for the future, but I do know that there is something special here in 1st Avenue Pizza and the community of Atlantic Highlands. I’ll be taking it one day at a time and focusing on making this place the best that it can be, so we can be best serve the people of this town,” he said.

This article was first published in the May 17-24, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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