A Taste Of Local Businesses

Owners of Brenen’s Coffee Cafe and Doctor Pizza dish out advice from their experiences running restaurants in Athens.

Athens is packed with local business owners passionate about their roles in the community. Doctor Pizza closed in the ’90s after 10 years of business but reopened in summer 2017. Brenen’s Coffee Cafe opened in the ’90s, rebranded a few years later and has since been a staple in the community. Backdrop spoke with the owners of each about what makes a good business and what it takes to run one.

Gary Charles, Doctor Pizza

What is the background of Doctor Pizza?

We are a new pizza place that just opened up in August.
We were previously in business from 1981 to 1993, which
my father owned. We were on Stimson Avenue right across from Hocking Valley Bank. We make our own dough, sauce, everything, right on hand. [We] use top ingredients. … We do 12-inch toasted subs, we do wings, we do pizza, and we’re thinking about adding salads.

What brought you to Athens?

My dad actually came here and opened the store, so I’ve lived here in Athens my whole life. He opened up the Dominos here in ’69, we left in ’73 and moved to Athens, Georgia, then we came back to Athens, Ohio, in ’83. We really like the community. [When] we reopened, a lot of the older people who remembered us … came back and were really responsive.

What do you hope to gain by reopening your business here?

Long-term, I want to start and build this store as a model and move onto other campuses.

Is there anything you’re nervous about?

No, not really. I’ve made pizza since I was 5 years old, actually making, not playing. Everyone says pizza is in my veins; they say I bleed pizza. I mean, I enjoy it. It is definitely different times now with finding help, but I really like it and I’m happy to be back. I lost my father on August 21; we opened on August 2. So, he kind of gave me the tools and what I needed, and so I want to make it something really special for him.

Josh Thomas, Brenen’s

How did you and Bremen’s end up in Athens?

In 1991, two guys out of Columbus opened up the store. The original name was actually Yogurt Oasis, and we had three yogurt machines. We had frozen yogurt, still had the deli, very similar. … [But] people thought it was just a yogurt shop. So, they changed the name to Brenen’s, added the coffee area, expanded the deli area and still had yogurt. I started working here in 1997. I worked for them for three years, and then I bought the store in 2000. Right around the time I bought the store, we dropped the yogurt — no one was really buying yogurt anymore, the trend was kind of gone — so we started focusing more on coffee and deli.

What struggles do you face running a business in Athens and how do you overcome them?

Athens is a rollercoaster, that’s probably the biggest struggle. … The uptown area, when I started working here in 1997, looked nothing like this. Right now is just restaurant, restaurant, restaurant, bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, but when I started here there was probably four different clothing stores on this block alone. There was a travel agency, an optician, there were just all kinds of different businesses Uptown; it was more diverse. Now it’s just restaurants. More competition, [and] we have to deal with that. That’s always the biggest challenge.

What has been the most rewarding part of working here and your favorite aspect of running the business?

For me, it’s a little rewarding when I have days where I stand in the middle of the store and I go, ‘This is mine. Wow.’ … I think when people think about sole-proprietorship or just locally owned business, sometimes they don’t think of it as being as nice as a chain restaurant. But I think we get a lot of compliments in that. … People come in, and I remember them coming in 10 years ago, getting a sandwich. It’s nice seeing people come back in town and wanting to come here. It’s part of their experience.

Any advice to a new business in Athens?

You have to be prepared. … Ohio University students will spend money. But in my opinion, Ohio University students are smart with their money. You know, when you look at the demographics, we don’t have the most wealthy students coming to Ohio University, so they need to pay attention to their dollars. So they aren’t going to spend their money on something that isn’t good. … When new businesses open up they think it’s easy money, and it’s not, you have to work for it. You have to be here. You have to put the time in. You have to pay attention.

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