Michael Ghinelli of Wyckoff was in his junior year and distracted from classwork by designs for his own t-shirt company when a teacher told him he'd never go anywhere.
That stuck with him, he said. But now, the 21-year-old has taken over Pizza Club in Edgewater with business partner Hadi Parhizkaran. And he says he's proving his teacher wrong one slice at a time.
Ghinelli and Parhizkaran, also of Wyckoff, have always been motivated to work, talking about potential future business ventures when they first met as teenagers in the kitchen at Blue Moon Mexican Cafe.
“We were just kids at the time, daydreaming about building a career together,” Ghinelli told Daily Voice.
They’ve since had more than six years of experience in the food industry and have made many of their visions come to fruition.
But the duo have another trait in common: They thrive in the business world rather than the classroom and have dropped out of college to pursue their passion as food industry entrepreneurs, Ghinelli says.
Knowing that he wanted to be involved in the business world, Ghinelli studied business at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm, FL. In his first semester, he had an epiphany sitting in the classroom.
“I was spending so much money to be there," Ghinelli said. "Yes, I was having an amazing time and my school was beautiful, but I just couldn’t shake that -- it just clicked.”
In an effort to prevent getting saddled down with outrageous student loans that put up long-term financial barriers, Ghinelli moved back north and commuted to Ramapo College of New Jersey. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his time and money were being put to waste.
“I kept thinking, ‘I don’t find the worth in being here. I can learn all of this on my own,’” he said.
He then looked to get advice from his father, who told him, “create your own path” -- and he’s been doing just that ever since.
Ghinelli left college and turned his focus to the real estate industry, working as a licensed agent with Terrie O’Connor Realtors in Wyckoff. That’s where he started browsing businesses for sale and other investment opportunities.
As fate would have it, Ghinelli ran into Parhizkaran, then a student at Bergen Community College, after the two had gone their separate ways post-high-school.
Ghinelli then heard that the original owners of Pizza Club, which first opened in 1990, put the shop up for sale last December. He said the two knew they couldn’t afford the place, but they submitted an offer anyway, which Ghinelli says “got the ball rolling.” Fast forward two months and several rounds of negotiations later, and it was official: Pizza Club was under new ownership.
Parhizkaran left college to pursue the venture, and the two originally planned to focus on the shop for at least a full year. But in keeping tradition with their fast-paced natures, they’re already planning on opening a second location in Garfield at the end of the month -- a decision Ghinelli says was partially influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as more advice from his father.
“My dad always said, ‘Don’t make the best out of a bad situation, but make the bad situation better than if it never happened before,’” said Ghinelli.
Though Ghinelli says the virus has inevitably “taken a toll” when it comes to day-to-day operations, he believes this philosophy is what helped him to expand the brand quicker by using his real estate license to more easily find an affordable space for the second location.
Meanwhile, the two have their eyes on Ridgewood for Pizza Club’s third location, with an ultimate goal of opening a fourth within the next two years.
For now, after years of working minimum wage jobs, Ghinelli and Parhizkaran are working on something they’ve wanted to do “from the very beginning” -- show non-college kids that they can forge their own paths and “break the mold.”
“Our hearts really go out to those kids -- the ones who want to create their own path, they don’t want to get strapped down with college debt, they don’t want to sit in a classroom, they want to do something,” Ghinelli said.
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