As part of our ongoing "Getting to Know Your Local Businesses" series, this week we sat down with Mike Swift, co-owner of J. Christopher’s Pizza & Pasta.
Tell us a bit about your business: What does your business offer, and how long have you been around?
J. Christopher’s is Kingwood's first family restaurant and was founded 40 years ago in 1980 by John and Marcie Brennan. In 2007, John and Marcie’s daughter, Anne Brennan-Collier, purchased the store from Marcie so she could retire (John had gone home to the Lord years prior). Together with her husband, Coby, Anne operated the store for six years. In April 2013, Anne and Coby sold the store to my family. Over the years, we have expanded the menu to include such Italian favorites as veal Marsala and calamari. But, the balance of the menu and recipes remain the same as the day the store opened. We are best known for our Chicago-style pizzas which feature sausage made by an Italian family that has been serving the Chicago area for over 70 years.
When you visit, ask for my wife or me. We’d love to meet you if we haven’t already.
How did you decide to get involved in this line of work?
Previously, I worked for a private equity firm in a portfolio company as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a restaurant chain. I was part of a three-person management team responsible for turning that chain around and saving over 600 jobs. It was a Chef-driven concept, and everyone in the corporate office had to train in a store before assuming their duties in the office. Everyone had to understand the challenges the stores face on a day-to-day basis. It was a “walk a mile in their shoes” philosophy that fostered mutual respect between the main office and the various stores.
I had a lot of fun working in the restaurant at the direction of the Chef. I learned everything from knife skills, to cooking techniques, to ordering and receiving products. It was a blast! So, after we turned that chain around, I started looking for my own restaurant opportunity, and I found a perfect gem — J. Christopher’s.
We discovered J. Christopher’s was on the market for sale. J. Christopher’s had a fantastic menu, great customers, and phenomenal employees. My wife and I bought the restaurant for our family, not as something to turn around like at that private equity firm, but as a place where we could work until we retire and beyond. We immediately left our jobs and began working together in the restaurant.
Tell us a couple of things that you are proud of in your business. What are you known for? What separates you from the competition?
Well, one thing I didn’t understand in 2013 when we bought the restaurant is that J. Christopher’s is much more than just a restaurant. Sure we sell food and drinks, but that is not our primary mission. Our primary mission is to help both our community and our employees. Selling food makes it all possible.
We employ single moms and folks with special needs children. The shifts we can give our servers, and delivery drivers make it possible for them to attend college because their families are not otherwise able to send them to college in many cases.
We’ve taken in homeless men and given them jobs, and through our church, we have helped them get back on their feet. For some J. Christopher’s is a launching point as they pay their way through college and get that first ‘real job’. For others, it’s a safety net to catch them when the obstacles of life knock them down.
In short, the thing I am most proud of is that this isn’t just a restaurant. It’s a ministry. That’s how the Brennan’s operated it, and that’s how we run it. I think that sets us apart from many of our competitors because they measure success by how many stores they open. But, we measure our success by how many employees have gotten their degrees and how much we have given back to the community.
What is your favorite part of running this business?
My favorite part of running this business is the people. We have the most amazing customers, employees, and vendors. Here you’re not just another table. You are part of our family. It’s like the 80’s sitcom Cheers — everyone knows your name. We get to know you. We pray for you when you need it. We lend a hand when you need it. We listen when you need it. We are here to celebrate your birthday, wedding, or anniversary. You are part of our family.
Who is your ideal customer/client? Who do you serve best?
Our ideal customer is anyone who enjoys delicious food served in a warm, family environment. We are not a fancy white tablecloth establishment or a raucous sports bar. We are a simple mom and pop Italian (Americanized) restaurant.
If you like good pasta, pizza, burgers, salads and you want to go to a place where you’re not rushed, and you want to support someone working on his/her college degree and a business that gives back more than it takes, then J. Christopher’s is the place for you.
Is there any other information you'd like your potential customers/clients to know about your business?
Everything on our menu can be ordered either by phone or online. We deliver to almost everywhere in zip codes 77339, 77345, and to parts of zip code 77365, such as Kings Manor, Kings Mill, Oakhurst, Auburn Trails, and Woodridge Forest. We also offer curbside pickup for online and call-in orders.
To place an order online for delivery, take-out, or curbside pickup, and to view our menu, visit our website
. Visit our Facebook
page to read reviews from our customers, message a member of our team, and get frequent updates about our family restaurant.
How do you see your business growing and improving over the next couple of years?
We will continue to support our neighbors as we face another tough time in our area with the Coronavirus. We have recently implemented an online ordering system on our website to assist everyone as they shelter in their homes. Once this crisis passes, we intend to remodel our dining room and to launch several new menu items.
To learn more about J. Christopher’s Pizza & Pasta, visit our profile at Kingwood.com