Zoli’s Pizza was born out of the Neapolitan craze – some people just didn’t like them, so owner Jay Jerrier tried to create a brand that would offer traditional red sauce pizzas. Zoli’s has two locations in the DFW area.
Zoli’s Pizza in Dallas was built in the back of its sister pizza place, Cane Rosso. While Cane Rosso’s traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas were popular with some guests, others didn’t care. Founder Jay Jerrier was looking for a brand that would appeal to those who didn’t like Cane Rosso.
“It was 2011, 2012, when Neapolitan pizza wasn’t everywhere,” Jerrier said, “so there were a lot of people who just hated Cane Rosso. It was so limp and wet and soft or whatever. We had this old deck oven in the kitchen at Cane Rosso and we were just experimenting with New York style pies. We were starting to get really good at making big, crunchy slices that you could fold over and not hang down.”
And so Zoli’s was born in 2013 as a counter service concept. Jerrier and his team found a tiny space at Bishop Arts in Dallas and began making whole pies, slices, grandma-style and Sicilian pizzas, chicken parmesan rolls and stromboli — all the foods found in traditional New York style can be found.
Zoli’s was in this location for just a couple of years before the property was sold to a developer and the brand decided to relocate in 2016. Two years later, Jerrier and his team finally found a new building for Zoli’s, which opened a much larger, full-service concept in an area of north Dallas called Addison.
The brand expanded into pasta, pizza, sandwiches, salads and desserts.
“We have one that’s consistently cited as one of the best burgers in Dallas,” Jerrier added, “which is quite an achievement in such a meat-heavy city.”
He said he grew up in Massachusetts, where he and his family frequented many traditional Italian red sauce spots, which he wanted to do with Zoli’s second coming. He hired an upscale chef who was also one of Dallas’ best burger dudes, Jerrier said, so a double cheeseburger was added to the menu and became one of the most popular dishes and received a lot of press.
A second Zoli’s opened on Ft. Value side of the region a few years ago. Both are owned by Jerry.
“I love our Neapolitan-style pizza, but this is the stuff I grew up eating in the Northeast,” Jerrier said, adding that his wife likes the lightness of Cane Rosso’s Neapolitan pizza a little bit more. “I love the big, cheesy piece of Zoli’s. Whenever I go to Zoli’s I just get a plain cheese pizza.”
Dough is made in house. Jerrier has considered using a commissioner and it’s on his “to do” list. To date, he has been able to continue his activities in Dallas/Ft. area worth.
The make-it-yourself pizza is tops, but closely followed by the Christian Pescroni pizza, which features tomato sauce, double pepperoni, and jalapeno pesto and is named after an acclaimed chef who is a friend of Jerrier’s.
Old-school zucchini fries are also popular, served with a spicy jalapeno ranch dip. Instead of mozzarella sticks, they offer nuggz, deep-fried cubes of mozzarella served with marinara.
The award-winning double cheeseburger is made with a blend of chuck brisket short rib, American cheese, farmhouse cheddar and pickles, and is served with a signature sauce.
A popular dessert is the Gooey Butter Cake, served with whipped cream and raspberries.
“We got creative with the things we wanted to do on this menu,” Jerrier said. There’s no microwave and only a small freezer at Zoli’s, and everything is made in-house, including the dough, sauce, focaccia bread, zucchini sticks, and they cut and bread the mozzarella bites.
“The dough — it’s a complicated, multi-day process,” Jerrier added. “We have many different dough processes every day. … We do everything in-house because I’ve never found a supplier that could do it exactly how we want it, with the same quality. We make hundreds of pizzas a day and we really want pizza 1 to be as good as pizza 200 and unless we get our hands in the process we don’t feel like that can happen.”
Pizza accounts for 55 to 60% of sales. Jerrier aims to give the other dishes on the menu the same level of attention and care that he gives to pizza.
To maintain continuity as Zoli’s has grown, Jerrier said he has expanded his staff at the company, including a chief culinary officer and a team of company chefs whose job is to ensure the brand’s foods are properly prepared and served will. Videos on how to make the items and menu sheets for businesses are available. At every location there are employees who train pizzaiolos in pizza baking.
“Not only are we making sure everything is the way we want it now, we’re optimizing things for the future,” added Jerrier.
Hiring, like most restaurants, was a challenge, and it’s not just about hourly staff. Zoli’s is starting to get some good people coming back hourly, with pizza chefs making $20 an hour, but it seems like the brand is always training someone new, Jerrier added. Even on the corporate side with director-level positions, there were people who wouldn’t show up for interviews for a $90,000-a-year job.
Price fluctuations in food and goods are also beginning to calm down. “With 10 restaurants in operation (of all three of his brands), we buy in bulk,” Jerrier said.
And more and more guests are eating, forcing the brand to rely less on third-party delivery.
Jerrier said they are always looking for new opportunities and places. He would like to open another Zoli’s in Dallas and maybe one in the suburbs. The DFW area is growing and Jerrier makes sure the properties make sense before stepping in.
“We’re always looking for more rooms, but I’m a little shy about opening rooms just because it’s taking so long to get something done now,” admitted Jerrier. “We just upgraded what we have and tweaked our dough recipes, refined our menus, did all of our costing, and put the right people in the right places. The pandemic was a great opportunity for us to just reset.
“We want to make sure diners have a great time when they come to our restaurants, so we want our restaurants to be fun, we want our restaurants to be inexpensive, and we just want people to really having a good time.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is Editor-in-Chief for Networld Media Group and Site Editor for PizzaMarketplace.com and QSRweb.com. She has over 20 years of experience in food, people and places.
An award-winning print journalist, Mandy brings more than 20 years of experience to the Networld Media Group. She has spent almost two decades covering the pizza industry, from independent pizzerias to multi-unit chains and every size company in between. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry. She has an insatiable hunger to learn and can tell you where to find the best bits in the country, having traveled and eaten pizza for a living for 15 years.