The candy man can: SU senior turns lifelong hobby into sweet profession
Few things have remained constant in Ryan Novak’s life. Chocolate happens to be one of them.
Strapped in a stroller at 18 months, Novak’s mother took him to the quaint chocolate shop right across the street from his Marcellus, N.Y., home. A toddler with a sweet tooth for gourmet confections, Novak would reach above the counter, feeling around for the sample tray until he found the perfect treat. Trips to the Chocolate Pizza Company became a habit as the store gained small-town popularity.
Four years later, he lost his mother in a tragic accident. Novak was faced with a traumatic experience that forever changed his life when he was just 5 years old. But he refused to let it slow him down. The chocolate shop was still in town, the experience still a part of his daily life.
Now a senior management major, Novak owns and operates the nationally recognized Chocolate Pizza Company in Marcellus his mother brought him to so many years ago. Bonnie Hanyak, a lifelong family friend and Novak’s co-manager, built the business from the ground 22 years ago. She never thought she would hand her business to someone so young, she said, but she can’t deny he is the right man for the job.
‘I must say that I have nothing but sheer joy and excitement for him. He’s young, he’s ambitious, he’s energetic, he’s got all kinds of ideas taking (the store) to levels I could never do,’ Hanyak said.
Chocolate pizza, which is chocolate blended with toffee and other ingredients in the shape of a pizza, is a sweet symbol of what Novak has gone through to get to this point. The store sells thousands of ‘pizzas’ per month during the Christmas season and closer to 800 over the summer. They also sell ‘wings’ (potato chips dipped in chocolate and peanut butter), along with many other chocolate confections. Customers often buy the pizza as gifts or for corporate events.
Whether it’s tossing chocolate pizza or kicking field goals, when Novak puts his mind to something, he follows through.
‘He’s really motivated and very dedicated. Whenever he gets an idea, he sticks to it and follows it through. Which explains the whole chocolate business,’ said Christie Yesersky, a graduate accounting student and friend of Novak since their freshmen year.
Chris Novak, Ryan’s father, recalls taking his son all around the country in pursuit of a football career. Ryan was a place-kicker with dreams of playing college ball when he graduated from Marcellus High School in 2006. He was a hard worker, took pride in the game and always gave it his all, his father said. But once again, routine was too much to ask for.
Ryan suffered a leg injury that hurt his chances of playing. After an unsuccessful transfer to Temple University his junior year, he knew he had to make a choice. His football career had come to a dead end. He turned to his next greatest passion, something that had been there all along: the Chocolate Pizza Company.
‘I love the Chocolate Pizza Company; it’s a great product. We’re gonna make it national, we’re gonna go huge with it,’ Ryan said. ‘So I just put all my eggs in one basket and started working here.’
Hanyak hired him at age 15, but by then, Novak already knew the business well. Novak and his friends would stop by on a regular basis, seeing if Hanyak needed help moving or lifting anything heavy, he said.
Opening such a successful business close to home has made him a recognizable face in the community and a source of pride for his father.
‘From a family perspective, it’s a dream to have him close by and participating in the town he was raised in,’ Chris said.
Novak balances his school life, his growing business and his family life extremely well, his father said. Ryan has a seven-year-old brother, whom he comes home to see as often possible, playing Wii or catch with him, he said.
There were times when Ryan could have stopped persevering. But those close to him know quitting isn’t exactly his style.
Zach Goldstein, a senior entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises major, lived on the floor below Ryan in Day Hall during his freshman year, and they have been friends ever since. It didn’t take long for him to recognize what is perhaps Ryan’s strongest quality.
‘He absolutely has the drive. He was like ‘I’m going to be running this chocolate pizza company, just you wait,” Goldstein said. ‘I said that this couldn’t be real. There’s no way this kid is going to end up taking over this company. And it happened, he was right. I think he can pretty much do whatever he wants right now.’
Ryan’s time at SU has given him applicable workplace knowledge that has helped him run day-to-day operations at the Chocolate Pizza Company. His supply chain management class taught him to smooth out the shop’s daily operations. Some things can’t be taught in a classroom, though, he said.
‘You can try to teach (entrepreneurship) in a class, but you really can’t do it until you’re actually out there working with people,’ Novak said. ‘We have 12 employees, and all of them are older than me. That can be a challenge sometimes, because sometimes not everyone wants to listen to a 21-year-old.’
With a new store opening up Oct. 1 in Manlius, Ryan hopes to expand his business around the country. Growth of the Chocolate Pizza Company is one change he can not only see coming, but welcomes.
‘He understands that life is full of blessing and tears, and he’s had plenty of both,’ his father said. ‘But he focuses on the blessings. Whether its football, business, school or life, he understands that adversity is part of the journey. It either crushes you or makes you stronger, and he’s chosen to get stronger.’
Published on September 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm