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Joanna Narvaez | Growing with Your Business

In today’s episode of Palm Harbor Local Podcast, we sit down with a remarkable local entrepreneur, Joanna Narvaez who shares their inspiring journey into the restaurant business. From humble beginnings to becoming a successful leader and manager, our guest provides valuable insights and experiences that are sure to resonate with aspiring business owners and managers. Join us as we dive deep into their story and uncover the secrets to their success.

Listen to the podcast episode here!

Welcome to the show. How’s your day going?

Very good. But a little challenging this morning.

We were just talking about that. Right?

Yeah. But just like every day you handle the challenges and move on.

So your business is Bambino Pizza. It’s kind of a cool backstory, like we were talking about for like, how you became a business owner of a restaurant. So let’s, so why don’t we start there and talk about like, how you got into this position today?

So I moved down here, back in 2004. My parents at the time when they were together, and in July, they moved down here because of the weather up north. I’m from DC originally. Okay. And there was a mishap with my stepfather at the time he fell ice. And he was like, I’m done with the snow. So we come down here, and we sold her house. And we just he wanted to always open up a kind of like a garage fixer-upper kind of thing with cars, because he’s been into that kind of stuff, though, his whole life.

So my mom is a supportive partner. She said, sure, no problem. And he’s like, let’s move down south. So we decided on Florida. And when he moved down here, I guess their location was Tampa. And he was just looking around looking around for places, but he had a broker obviously. And, but they couldn’t, they didn’t find locations. This was back in 2004. They couldn’t find the location what’s it called? Mechanic places.  I was like, they were available. And that’s what that was. He was passionate about cars and Okay. And no business ownership prior.

He had business ownership prior. Exactly. But anywho, we just ended up having well he ended up going to Tampa Bay he was looking in Tampa he crossed the bridge went to Tampa Bay. And long story short, was that he had one last day here in Florida to visit and see any businesses and there was no luck then he had to go back. But I think he was just so desperate that he just found Bambinos but literally not with the broker. He was just driving by and saw a for sale sign. Exactly. Sale sign.

And he just drove by and he was like, okay, and he called up the broker. And this is what’s crazy he didn’t even go inside. He didn’t look at what was inside the building. Didn’t care. No, he didn’t care. He was so desperate that I need this. He talked to the broker then they had an appointment they went inside but they didn’t go inside like something like that. And I think they weren’t open so they just went inside and looked through the entrance but they didn’t look everywhere. That’s the thing. So he was like okay, I’ll take it here so he had business experience before just owning a business but we had no clue had no restaurant business experience at all.

So you guys are moving down here. Note no jobs, right with for the family. It’s the job is the money coming in is from this business that you’ve never been a part of before.

Yes, exactly. So the family that owned Bambinos was they were the original owners. They were super nice. And they had their son. I believe their daughter helped us out with the restaurant for like the first two months. Oh, wow. They were very, very nice. And we did it like, and they taught us everything. This is funny. They literally taught us how to make pizzas. They taught us how to cook pot. Like we knew how to cook pasta, but pasta, like Italian style, like you had to learn all that stuff. It’s not easy. And so that was a really interesting experience. And back then I was 13. I was 13 years old.

And you were working in the restaurant? 

Definitely every morning and night and then after school didn’t start yet. But what happened was, we were still on vacation. And I’m, I’m from DC. So school doesn’t start till like probably the end of August or the beginning of September. And back then school already is starting at the beginning of August. Okay, so it was July, and I’m thinking, Oh, my God, I’m gonna have so many weeks off, I’m gonna get a tan, blah, blah. No, that should even happen. I was working all the time. And my parents pushed me there. And then finally, when it was like, a week that my mom was saying, okay, just take this week off or whatever. I could even do that. Because school was starting that week. And we just found out that school started that week. So.

So that was 2004. So you guys moved down? Try to figure out this restaurant business. Yes. And now and then. So fast forward a little bit. And then when did you officially like take over? Kind of running it all by yourself?

So back in 2011, my mom got breast cancer. And she was in stage three. So and I think no, no, I’m lying. Sorry. It was 2009. I apologize. Because I’m thinking about my last year of high school, and I graduated that year. But that was one of the hardest years that I had to confront. Because the same time my stepfather decided to divorce my mom for personal reasons. And I was literally put on a pedestal of trying to manage school, trying to work literally, no joke manage my parent’s relationship at the time, because they’re both owners of a restaurant and confront these employees. That they’ve been running under both of them.

So your mom just found out she had breast cancer at that time to that time.

So it literally took a year. And I think 2011 I think it took a while. Think about this. 2011 That’s, I think when they finalized something like that. And then in 2012 in January, that’s when I took it over. And I believe it was 20 at the time. 20 or 21. Some are on there.  And, and I was already dealing with a lot of stuff. So that’s when I took it over with my mom. So we bought out my stepfather. He’s no longer in the picture. And then that’s and then live just exceeded and what highs and lows from there.

Full-on responsibility line responsibility. Not the same as I was obviously when I was younger. Cause this was more when I was younger. I was just doing like, I was at the front of the restaurant. I was answering phone calls, giving people their orders, just like a regular post or a front desk girl, you would say, and that was my responsibility. I also manage a lot just by like how delivery drivers did their thing, but after that, when they said to me when my mom said okay, you’re gonna take it over. It’s not as easy as you think it is. You’re not doing the same thing. I didn’t believe her.

So, of course, you’re 20 and then I was like, okay, okay, whatever. And then I literally saw so much responsibility just pile on me. Because it wasn’t just like managing employees, some employees wanted to quit. Because they were slitting it was trauma. During that time. So I was just like, Oh my god.

So a tough transition. What did? Did you ever have one? And that’s, I mean, so you like grew up in that business in the restaurant? Did you ever have one? Like, what did you ever want to be like growing up? Like what are those thoughts that you had as a kid? Like, this is what I do I want to go to school, or did you? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

Thank you for asking. I’ve had dreams. Right now. I can’t really think of it because it really kind of brushed off. But I did want to go to like another state for college. I really did. I just wanted to get away from here. I wanted to go to the University of Maryland. Also, my dream was to go to FIU. down in Miami, I just wanted to get it far away from this area, just to avoid the restaurant industry, but I really honestly can’t remember. I wanted to do it because right now, it kind of changes right now with the restaurant and etc.

So how has it changed? How like, I’m how it changed. Like before I hated it. And now I feel like it’s blessed me with all like, the knowledge that I’ve learned from owning this type of business. Because you’re like, pushing back, like at a younger age like this isn’t mine. Exactly. And then you accept it. Exactly. Like, take ownership of it. Take some pride in it.


So what is so now you’ve had it since 2012? So 11 years now? What are some of the biggest challenges of a restaurant I feel like owning a business is hard.

Owning a restaurant is another level.

Joanna Narvaez | Growing with Your Business

No, I think there’s about I can’t really put how many numbers would be honest, I can’t say like, five things are really hard. to the restaurant now. I think every restaurant is different. But I think the most challenging thing is I would say, time managing time, your time or time like your lifetime, like just, you’re just always putting a lot of hours in the business kind of thing. I envy I really do envy people who have nine-to-five schedules, I sometimes dream of that but then I look at it. I’m like, No, I’m very blessed to have my own business at the same time, but it is. It’s such a challenge.

So I would say the very first thing or hours, what people don’t understand is that if you want to own a restaurant, you have to put so much time and sacrifice into that business. I remember and it’s not just from me taking it over. I just remember when my parents took it over. Because I was there. And I literally helped them out because they worked their butts off from morning tonight. I’m learning in the beginning, obviously. But thankfully, we had a support system which was family. And we still meant there were more hands in the business. If it were just like two people I think I don’t know. Like I really just don’t know because it’s a restaurant. It’s different than just a takeout place or etc.

But what I’m thinking is if you have a support system, you’re able to move forward. We literally sacrifice so much of our time and hours. Like I said it was night and day I remember them prepping and working we didn’t have cooks or anything like that they just prepped and cooked and all that stuff, and Then at the end of the night, we were cleaning. And also, you can’t expect, a boom of business within like the first month of owning a business, or how it works, right?

Especially in a restaurant, you have to put a lot of work into it. You have to back in the day, it was word of mouth. It wasn’t anything with social media, or even Yelp and TripAdvisor or Google, actually, no Google reviews did exist, I’m lying. But both Yelp and TripAdvisor are things that give reviews of restaurants. They didn’t exist before. So it was always a word of mouth. And we had such wonderful, wonderful, I’m telling you wonderful support from our customers that helped us out, they, they were like, Oh, my God “Best pizza in town,” or etc. And they literally spread it to their friends. To the other friends to family members. And we got so busy.

And I think it had to do also that it was my parents running at the time with a young daughter that probably went to school with some of these kids or something like that, but it helped a lot. And they could just connect with you.  And we were talking about it before, right? That’s kind of the idea behind the podcast, right is introducing the business owner, because that’s how we connect with the business at the end of the day, right? It’s all relationship based.


So managing your time, like, that’s challenging in a restaurant, right? How did you? How did you kind of overcome that or find the balance for yourself?

I think that’s the hardest out of the conversations we have on the podcasts, time management comes up a lot as a challenge because it’s great, you’re not working nine to five or you have this freedom in your schedule so that’s great. But it’s also you have this freedom in your schedule. So it’s difficult, right? You can, you can easily work 80 hours in a day and be like, Well, what the heck, what am I doing?

It’s so true. Like, you can get out anytime you want. And that’s right. But you’re always in it. No matter what, with the business, you’re always on call. You’re always there. In your head. You’re always there at the business. So, but the time I literally when I was a kid, I’d hated it. Obviously. Also, seeing my parents always at the store and barely seeing them was also another thing that I noticed. And I personally, actually enjoyed going to the restaurant because I was surrounded by people. You would get lonely at home at church, so I didn’t care about going to work when I was a kid.

Because I was with people. With staff, with my parents, whatever.  And I just, I got accustomed to it. I did. And it’s people it kind of fat and see, because I kind of just don’t get it that like, people don’t understand my lifestyle. I mean, like, some of my friends are like, Oh, my God, you work from like 10 am all the way to 11 pm.

Sometimes I meant I accounted only cats 14 hours and like, but honestly, we’re not really, I would say, I’m not really working all those hours? But you’re still working. And I’ve got so used to it throughout like, probably 10 years or 11 years having the restaurant that it’s become a habit. That’s the norm for you. It’s so normal.

It’s so normal. So do you want to change that at all? Like, is your goal to maybe step away from different parts of the business and have people in a place, or have you done that already?

No, I haven’t. I’ve done that before. It just depends right now on money time. Just seeing honestly, my mom is about to retire soon. So that’s what’s in my head. And, and she still works in the business too.

It’s not that I want her to and It’s not that I don’t want her to work. Like I don’t want her to work. And I do want her to work. It’s not that, is she? She said that she needs to do something. She’s so used to it. Yes. Like me. But even before like, I was even worried she was working, but it’s just like, she’s like, Oh, I’m not going to be sitting around doing nothing. I want to be at the restaurant. And if she finds something to do, she will do something. No, she’s also stubborn.

So if I tell her mom, can you please go home? She sticks around for the two more. Like my staff. And I can like, we can handle it and she’s like, Okay. And then she sticks around, like, what are you still doing?

So just like you, you probably get that from her. Right. Just being around the business.

Like I guess so. No, I’m a little opposite. I actually want to leave sometimes. Like, I want to go. But no, she wants to stay.

So let’s talk about like, the, like managing the staff. I know, like, during COVID, like, that was a big issue about staffing and stuff for some businesses, tiny businesses. But what is what like, what’s it like managing? Being a leader of a business like that, and kind of like leading your staff to? To make sure the business runs the way you want it to run?

Yes. So that’s a great question. I learned a lot about myself, I also learned a lot about how to manage, especially a business, I think business in general, but a restaurant when I was younger. When I had to take over, I had no idea how to manage employees. Really honest to God.

And I had, basically the mentor of my parents, basically. Right. Like they were the representatives of how to like, and manage employees. But they weren’t that great at it. That’s, to be honest. So, in the beginning, it was very hard. Because we did have staff, but most of the staff were a lot older than me. And they did not want to take orders. And that wasn’t ordering them.

Like, basically Hitler. Do this, do this, do this. No, it was I would, I would be scared to tell the staff members. Hey, could you please do if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to?  Some of them did. They just did what they were they were doing? I didn’t even have to say anything?  But I’ve, I was teaching myself and instructing myself how to talk. And, and how to handle difficult situations.

How did you figure that out? Is it just was it just trial and error? Like, oh, this is working?

There was a lot of trial and error. Also, thankfully, there was YouTube. And then I Googled it. YouTubed it? And I was taking a lot of knowledge. And I’m like, okay, okay. And it sometimes gives me a lot of anxiety because I think I’m always doing something wrong, always. And it was a lot of trial and error.

The number one thing that I told myself that I didn’t want. And I didn’t want staff members who are under the influence of anything. Oh, it was kind of hard. Because in the restaurant industry, there are a lot of alcoholics, drug addicts that we may not know of. And etc. And I and I realized that those types of employees, some of them were under my parents, and they never came into work on time. There it’s, you learn a lot from their experiences and from watching it. So I’m all I told myself, I don’t want that. So we had delivery drivers that were high school and college-aged kids. And I looked at that and I said, That’s what I want. And because it’s also the attitude and you see the kids how they’ve also been brought up, like just how they carry themselves basically, right? So that’s what I’ve realized that that’s what I wanted because they’re energetic. They want to come to work.

So what is if you had to say like, like a tip that you’ve learned or something like to help like another business owner or somebody else like manage people But like, what’s one thing that you think is like most valuable when it comes to leading a team of people?

I think just respect, I really do. I respect the other person. The employees. Because they’re humans. And, and also, I, I know that I’m their boss, but I try to get, like, on their level, like of what they’re like I like as a boss, I like to understand what my staff like what their life is going on. Because I can’t just be, hey, you’re going to prep this or you’re going to do deliveries and like, I need to know like, how are you doing? Because if they come into work, like let’s just, let’s just say they just got broken up with it come into work, distraught, even though there’s a rule of putting work and personal life separate. It’s always fear. I mean, they’re humans. So it’s best to like, be basically on their level that you’re their boss.

They know that you’re their boss.  But you have to understand their job.

So going back to like, overtime for relationships, right? As it goes, even with your staff, it’s all about relationships all about connecting with the people. I like that. So one question I’d like to wrap up with is when you’re not working, you’re not in the restaurant. If you had one, one place to go visit could be another business. Do you need a break? And what is joining you’re going to do is you’re gonna go to this business or this park or whatever. Like, where are you going?

I would love to see my friends.

Do you have a favorite spot? Do you like to go hang out?

No, I’m just catching up with friends. I’m catching up with friends. I love my girlfriends. So it’s just seeing them and just like, it’s just they’re so supportive.

And also, it just basically, you’re like, far away from the business. You don’t have to think about it?  And then just having a good girl time. But there’s no particular place. I think just being with the people that you care about is where it’s at.

So it could be anywhere. Cool. So where’s for the people that don’t know about Bambino’s pizza? Where is it located?

So we’re in Dunedin. And we’re off of alternate 19. Right next to a Mexican restaurant. And kind of like across from the golf course. Right there.

Oh, perfect. So we’re in between Curlew Road and Michigan Boulevard?

On the west side of 19. Right. Like the water sign?

Yes, cool. We’re really close to the water. So it’s nice are really close to the beach, too.

Which is cool. So go check them out. Yes. I’m sure. of course. I’ll be there. And thank you so much for being here.



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