CSUF alumni Aaron Tofani ’06 was gracious enough to write the following post about how he and his business partner, Rance Ruiz, embraced their entrepreneurial spirits and opened one of the most successful pizza restaurants in Southern California, Rance’s Chicago Pizza.
Owning a business with one of my best friends is a truly rewarding experience. Growing up I watched Rance develop an expertise for making delicious Chicago deep dish pizza pies. When he asked me to join him in opening a restaurant, I drew from my education at Cal State University, Fullerton to evaluate the opportunity and build the business.
In 2012 we opened Rance’s Chicago Pizza in Costa Mesa, CA and have since been awarded Top 30 Restaurants in Orange County by the OC Food List, voted Best Pizza in OC on the 2013 Hot List and featured in OC Weekly, Daily Pilot, OC Register, many other articles, foodie blogs, and great reviews on Yelp. We’ve hosted a Tap Take-Over with fellow CSUF Success Story Bootlegger’s Brewery and countless pizza parties for friends and family. Our business is consistently improving and we are having a blast working together.
In writing this story I decided to reflect specifically on how my undergrad studies at CSUF contributed to the opening and subsequent success of Rance’s Chicago Pizza. Here are my top five.
- Fundamentals: During my final year as an undergrad in 2006, Professor John Jackson released a book titled First, Best, or Different. Rance’s food was different from any other pizza restaurant in Orange County, it was the best pizza I had ever had, and we would be one of the first to offer this product in Southern California; that covers all of Professor Jackson’s criteria from his book.
- Planning: My experience in writing my first business plan at CSUF for the capstone project for the University Honors Program provided me with a template for the restaurant’s business plan. My mentor, Dr. Joe Greco, showed me how to structure my plan to evaluate the potential of the business, serve as a basis for raising capital and provide a roadmap to execute that plan.
- Business Operations: The three live consulting team projects I completed for actual local businesses were great learning opportunities. I essentially did a consulting project on my own business plan. Now as a business owner, I’ve hired three separate student consulting teams to evaluate different aspects of my business over the years. The quality of their work was very helpful and a great value.
- Building relationships: I discovered the Young Entrepreneur Society (now the Entrepreneur Society) and found the place I didn’t even know I was looking for until I found it. The friends I made in the Entrepreneur program helped me with the direction of the business and continue to help me to this day.
- Marketing: Although my major was finance, the courses I had and lessons I learned in marketing proved to be especially helpful. Rance is an artist when it comes to the food and great at operating the restaurant, which leaves my primary responsibilities to consist of marketing and finance.
Over the course of the past two years I have hired three CSUF consulting teams, each focusing on a different aspect of my company. Their marketing advice helped grow sales by over 30% and operations advice helped lower costs leading to consistently growing profitability. Aside from these direct financial benefits, the management advice helped increase organization to make the day-to-day operation less hectic and more enjoyable.
Having a great idea is half the battle, knowing how to create a viable business around that idea is the other half. Combining Rance’s passion for quality food around my business skills learned at CSUF makes us a strong team with unlimited possibilities.