Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
“Without Northern Initiatives, I would probably still be driving a truck and only wishing I was a pizza maker. They got me going and helped me find markets and different ways to advertise.”
– Justin Fisher, owner of North of Chicago Pizza
It could be said that sauce runs through Justin Fisher’s veins. Pizza sauce, more precisely. He has always loved the way this “all-around awesome food” smells and tastes, and the fact it is a popular feature at so many celebrations. Fisher’s experience working at different pizza places in his early 20s also taught him two important lessons: the industry is largely recession-proof; and it’s better to be an independent operator than a franchise owner. He recently fulfilled a longtime goal by opening North of Chicago Pizza in Sault Ste. Marie.
“I’ve always liked Chicago-style pizza and knew that would be one of our signature specialty items,” he said. “Ours comes with whole milk mozzarella—not grated cheese—and different toppings set between two layers of crust that are pinched along the edges like a pie before it goes in the oven. It’s modeled along the lines of the pizza at some of my favorite places in Chicago.”
The menu also features hand-tossed crust pizzas, three types of ravioli and other pasta entrees, salads and a variety of Italian rolls, including cudighi. Fisher and his wife, Eve, have family recipes for many of the items. They have spent the past year developing the menu, seeking advice from others in the business and renovating a former downtown garage to house North of Chicago Pizza.
Fisher left a 13-year career as a semi driver to open his own business. Northern Initiatives helped him secure start-up working capital and assisted with logo development, marketing strategies such as search engine optimization (SEO) and menu design and planning.
“Without Northern Initiatives, I would probably still be driving a truck and only wishing I was a pizza maker,” Fisher said. “They got me going and helped me find markets and different ways to advertise.
“We initially projected 30 customers a day, but we’ve shattered that. We haven’t had a day under 100 customers and on weekends, we see over 200. It’s really cool and overwhelming. We’re in the early stages and are just trying to get a handle on food costs, labor and customer service. But the fact we’re independent and local differentiates us from the chains. It also gives us more freedom to do our own branding and make our own menus.”
Fisher has not—to use a truck driving phrase—looked in the rearview mirror and questioned or regretted his decision to establish North of Chicago Pizza. As he navigates the initial “bumps” of small business ownership, he is also looking ahead to future goals, like opening a second location elsewhere in the Upper Peninsula.
North of Chicago Pizza Impacts