By Ginger DeShaney
When Sean Ryan and Troy Sproul wrote the business plan for their OTTO Pizza location in South Boston, a big piece of it involved giving back to the community.
“Any business has to have a connection to the community,” said Sean. For some, having a community-based initiative is an afterthought. “But we wrote it into our plan,” Troy said.
“It’s important for any business — a moral obligation — to come into a new market and … give back,” said Troy. “We are grateful we can give back to the community.”
Sean and Troy brainstormed how they could impact the most people. “At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do,” Sean said.
Their Tips for Kids program ensures that every tip the store receives is donated to a nonprofit organization in South Boston that can really use support, Troy said.
In order to do this, the minimum wage at the South Boston OTTO is $15 per hour “so our employees don’t have to rely on tips,” Troy said. The average wage there is $17 an hour.
“Most businesses look at labor as a cost on their profit and loss,” Troy said. “We look at it as an asset on our balance sheet.”
People told Sean and Troy they were crazy to offer those wages. “But look at our financial model and productivity. We take care of our employees, they are happier, they deliver a great product,” Troy said. “It’s an investment that more than pays for itself.”
OTTO has 15 employees at any given time. “We have a great team,” Troy said, noting there’s little turnover.
The higher wages allow OTTO to “support the community that supports us,” said Sean, who is also Chief Operating Officer of the corporate offices.
Tips for Kids is a vehicle that connects the community, OTTO employees, and local youth-based nonprofits, the owners said.
The first recipient of the Tips for Kids program was the Condon Community Center. The donations allowed Troy and Sean to present the Condon with a check for $29,000. That money will fund two years’ worth of programs, Troy said.
At the time of that gift, Sean and Troy’s store had only been open for six months, in the midst of a pandemic. “It’s an unbelievable story,” said Sean.
OTTO Pizza opened its doors at 416 W. Broadway (the entrance is on F Street, behind Caffè Nero) on Feb. 27, 2020, just 12 days before the shutdown.
“It was a pretty intense 12 days,” Troy said. “We were pretty busy. We got good response from the community. They were excited.”
Added Sean, “We were off to a great start.”
When COVID-19 forced the statewide shutdown, OTTO closed its dining room but, fortunately, it was set up for takeout by design, through its website and its app.
“We were prepared to manage operations through COVID,” said Troy. “We were already present on digital channels. We had more efficient tools in our bag.”
Troy and Sean had reached out to Haley Dillon in the Mayor’s Office for a suggestion for their first nonprofit beneficiary. She suggested the Condon Community Center. OTTO started collecting tips for the Condon Community Center in March.
For their next beneficiary, Troy and Sean asked the Condon’s Barbara Caputo Kelly to suggest a recipient. She suggested the South Boston Community Health Center’s Youth Ambassadors Program. After the Ambassadors program gets its donation, Troy and Sean will ask them for the next nonprofit suggestion.
“Since we are not local to South Boston, we lean on others for ideas,” said Troy, who is also Regional Operations Manager for OTTO Pizza.
In the meantime, Sean and Troy used the Tips for Kids to provide Thanksgiving turkeys to more than 100 families in South Boston. They reached out to the Condon Community Center to help find families, seniors, and veterans in need. On Nov. 23, families came to OTTO to pick up turkeys or Condon volunteers delivered them.
Troy and Sean agree these community give-backs are life-changing.
“Things like this help make a massive impact,” Sean said. “Now more than ever.”
Customers to the South Boston OTTO are informed that whoever gives the biggest tip in a month will receive free pizza the following month.
Speaking of pizza, the quality of the ingredients sets OTTO apart, Sean said.
They make their own dough daily. “And we get the best sauce we can buy,” Sean said, noting the tomatoes are PH tested, crushed/canned/sealed/and cooked in the can … and it’s just tomatoes.
And they use fresh milk mozzarella.
“These three pillars are what the brand stands on,” said Sean.
Their signature pie is mashed potato, bacon, and scallion. They also have a butternut squash, ricotta, and cranberry pizza.
“It creates a real experience,” said Troy.