The Palo Alto pizza pair
Twin brothers Chris and Scott Hong bring their family enterpreneurial streak to town
Sports bar and pizza joint. Meaty toppings and gluten-free crust. Some things go together like identical twin brothers.
Chris and Scott Hong do many things together, whether it's working out, sporting the same spiked haircut, or opening up the Palo Alto Pizza Co. on Park Boulevard near California Avenue this past January.
The brothers, 33, were born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved with their family to San Jose when they were 13. "When we came to the country, our family didn't have much money," Chris said. "We worked hard to make money and save money."
An entrepreneurial streak runs in the family. Their parents owned a karaoke bar in Seoul, and their father had an electronics repair shop in San Jose for five years. "We always had an idea to open up a business," Chris said. "We just weren't sure what kind."
But their parents had other ideas, and both boys ended up enrolling at De Anza College. After a year and a half, they shifted gears into entrepreneurship.
When their father returned to South Korea, "the responsibility shifted on us to pay for the mortgage," Scott said. Their love of cars led them to open up an auto-body shop. But the work involved interacting more with insurance companies than with cars and customers. The brothers realized that what they craved was customer interaction.
They looked around and found a friend from high school who had been working in the pizza business for 15 years. Nick Minarik owns Legends Pizza Company in San Jose, and after Chris spent a year working there, he enjoyed it so much that he convinced his brother and Minarik to join in his vision of Palo Alto Pizza Co. Minarik became co-owner and lent the new venture a few Legends recipes. The brothers also brought in Texas restaurant owner Brandon Nebel as general manager to teach them the ropes of running a restaurant.
Today, the Palo Alto Pizza Co. has a modern sports-bar atmosphere. Five flat screens adorn the wall and are tuned into the games, while the menu offers pizzas with such names as The Elway, The Harbaugh, The Woods and The Cardinal.
The twins boast about their products made from scratch, including their own dough and the sauce, and the cheese block shaved fresh. The restaurant specializes in sourdough, with many gluten-free and vegan options.
On a recent Friday evening, Nebel stands behind the front line, while the twins shuffle among the dining area, the kitchen and the front door, bringing pizzas to the tables and making deliveries to customers. One way to tell them apart, according to Chris, is that he is "10 pounds heavier."
Nebel gives his opinion: "Chris is more social and will laugh it up with you while Scott is more serious and is very business-oriented."
Scott adds, "I work on the financial, back-end side of things while Chris handles the operational processes, so it makes sense that those are the different styles we bring to the restaurant."
Despite their different styles, both twins say they are energized by interacting with their customers. "At the auto body shop, customers come in for one thing: cars. Here, we get many different types of customers," Scott said.
Elwanda Fenwick, a Palo Alto resident, has been coming to the restaurant since it first opened. "The pizza is good whether you pick it up and take it home or have it here," she said.
This night, she brought her neighbor, Cozy Jarlenski, to join her in watching some of the games. "The space is better when it has more people," Jarlenski said.
At one point, Fenwick turns to this reporter and asks, "Would you like to try some Luck?" The Luck is generously topped with pepperoni, salami, honey smoked ham, Italian sausage and bacon. It's unclear how the namesake pizza mirrors Andrew Luck's qualities, but the business' intention is straightforward.
"We wanted the restaurant's name to connect with the community," Scott said.
The brothers' ultimate goal is to open up five more restaurants in Palo Alto. Although the city has the reputation for entrepreneurship, the Hongs have an even more audacious mission.
"We want to make Palo Alto known for its pizza," Chris said.
Palo Alto Pizza Co.
2450 Park Blvd., Palo Alto
Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.