We’re continuing our series featuring local industry influencers. Today we’re sitting down with Alex and Jennifer Aton, the founders of Junior’s Pizza. A couple of years ago, Sun in my Belly had the privilege of hosting 2 of Junior’s pop-ups as they grew on their journey to realizing a dream of opening a brick and mortar, which eventually happened a few weeks ago in Atlanta’s up-and-coming Summer Hill neighborhood. After you read this interview, be sure to make plans to check our their new spot!
As always, thank you so much for reading this blog. On to the interview…
Q: Music or podcasts – what are you currently listening to? (don’t overthink it, lol)
A: Currently its either NPR on the way to work or 80s and 90s playlists on Pandora all day long at Juniors
Q: TV or movies – (assuming you have time to watch) what’s been your favorite series or film over the last year?
A: Any of the Marvel movies, Veronica Mars reboot, Big Little Lies, Game of Thrones of course, controversially Alex was not disappointed with the end. I (Jennifer) found spoilers on reddit a few weeks before the finale so after waiting since 2008 for the end of this, I was over it.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Atlanta?
A: Love and hate how small it is, anyone you meet is only a few degrees from at least one person you know.
Q: Favorite city/destination (other than Atlanta)?
A: Probably New York or Chicago, but really anywhere that we can get fun, matching souvenir tattoos, which we currently have 8 of.
Q: How long have you been working in your current industry?
A: Alex 13 years and Jennifer 14 years
Q: Why did you get into this business?
A: Jennifer-started in high school as a weekend job because J. Christophers was the only place that called me back after applying to multiple stores and restaurants and it just stuck. Through college, through office jobs with a weekend serving job, even after leaving to work as a stylist for several years, the restaurant industry has just been home ever since I started. Alex started at 20 because he just needed a job and he frequently ate at the Lavista Felinis so he applied there, got hired and it obviously stuck.
Q: What is your “mission statement”? What would it be if you don’t have one?
A: If we had to have one it would be ‘domination through compassion’. We don’t want to run anyone out of business, we just want to be the best and we want to do it by being good business owners. That includes treating our staff, the neighborhood and our guests right.
Q: Brief philosophy on your industry, business, or role within your business…
A: A philosophy on the industry would take paragraphs, this is a truly weird industry. Our philosophy on our business is to just be welcoming to everyone. Whether you’re in a suit on your lunch break, or a parent wrangling three kids for dinner, or a college student on a date, you should just feel relaxed in Junior’s. Enjoy the food, enjoy the artwork and leave happy. As for our role, we are very much about working alongside our employees. Alex is currently the only person making whole pies so he is in the kitchen from open to close 6 days a week. I float around running food, manning the register, clearing tables and washing dishes, all while keeping up with emails, instagram messages, facebook messages, and anything else from people wanting to know about gluten-free crust, our hours, dog-friendly patio, our alcohol license, etc. And the main thing is that almost everyone thanks us for the quick response because we can usually respond within 5 minutes. We built our business on Instagram so it’s still important for us to be able to communicate directly with everyone through our social media as if we’re still a tiny apartment operation.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A: That in our kid’s words we “get to be the big boss”. It’s nice not answering to anyone but each other and being able to do what we feel is best, even if it means closing for a day because we have a kindergarten orientation to go to.
Q: Who (if anyone) locally has inspired/influenced you in your industry?
A: Alex feels that he owes his pizza-making skills to his former Felinis manager, our current Sysco rep, Jeremy Kelly. Other than that no one really inspired or influenced us, we are doing our own thing, with our own recipes, and by starting through instagram we’ve really done this our own way the whole time. If anything, we’ve had people tell us for 4 years that we couldn’t do this, it wouldn’t work out, property owners turn us down because we weren’t a chain, managers of our jobs telling us we didn’t know what we were doing and to just take a few more years to see if we really wanted to do this, etc. all while seeing how not to run a business.
Q: What’s your favorite Atlanta restaurant and/or Atlanta owned business?
A: When we do go out it’s usually just to Flatiron in EAV and we love it there just because it’s casual and we know all the staff and many of the regulars so it’s just a relaxed place for us to unwind. We recently went to Bocca Lupo which we loved but that’s probably the last time we’ll be able to go for at least a few months if not the rest of 2019.
Q: Tell us something obscure/odd/weird about you and/or your business that we probably don’t know…
A: Obscure about us personally, on our first date I stuck my finger up Alex’s nose to gauge his personality, he immediately stuck his finger up my nose in return. Slightly obscure or just not well known, the restaurant is named after Jennifer, Junior has been her nickname for 5 years, everyone assumes “Junior” is Alex.
Q: Where do you see yourself/your business in 10 years? (feel free to be wildly ambitious)
A: Hopefully in 10 years we will have renewed our lease in Summerhill and it will be thriving and we’ll have a second location somewhere in the city. Hopefully by then Alex won’t be in the kitchen open to close 6 days a week. We’ll also have a 15 and a half year old that we’ll be teaching to drive ten years from now, if humans are still driving cars by that point. We might just be telling her tales of the good old days when we actually had to drive cars without robot help.
Q: Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Q: Final shout outs?
A: We do partner with other businesses though that we’d like to mention. Our hot sauce, Barrel and Bottle, is made by Calvin Rouse, a Summerhill resident. The hot sauce is amazing and we love being able to get it locally and Calvin is a great person. We also use Mike’s Hot Honey, which is a New York company, but it is an amazing addition to pizza and very unique. We are also working on getting our basil from Produce’d, a Summerhill urban farm business by Greg Crafter.
I’d just like to wrap this up by thanking Alex and Jennifer for their time (which they have very little of currently!). If you want to know more about Junior’s Pizza, head over to their Instagram account @juniorspizza_atl or their website www.juniorspizzaatl.com
Stay tuned for more interviews in this series featuring our fantastic friends. Can’t wait to see you again real soon 🙂