"I have so many positive experiences in Ascension Parish," franchisee Chad Calongne said, "the people that I've met, the people that have supported me, and the new friends that I've made here."
If you are perhaps in your mid-thirties and went to LSU, then you might know Rotolo's Pizza by one delicious phrase: "Ro-Ro-Rotolo's!"
Back in college, if someone called to order a pizza at the Tigerland location in Baton Rouge and said that over the phone, free breadsticks were coming your way.
Things have changed since then. The original location has turned into 34 stores across the Gulf South. But the company is still based in Louisiana.
Local Rotolo's franchise owner Chad Calongne started at the bottom in the Rotolo's company, training under company Founder Mitch Rotolo and others for almost a year at minimum wage. Today he owns six restaurants: five Rotolo's based in Gonzales, Prairieville, Watson, Walker, and Port Allen; and one Mooyah, based in Gonzales.
"Mitch Rotolo is a generous person, and he backs people he believes in," Calongne said this week in an interview.
Rotolo's pizza sort of, actually began near Tulane University in New Orleans at a bar called Waldo's on the corner of Broadway and Freret Street. Mitch Rotolo was working at Domino's at the time and asked the owner of the bar if he could run the kitchen.
He began selling pizza by the slice. It was a hit.
Finally, in 1996 Rotolo moved his family to Baton Rouge after noticing the Tigerland location for rent, and there he started Rotolo's.
Calongne, who resides in St. Rose recalls going to the French Quarter Festival where he fell in love with Rotolo's Pizza.
"My wife came home one day and said, 'You'll never guess what just opened in Destrehan. Rotolo's!'"
Calongne said they went to eat dinner there that very night. It was August 2007. At the time he worked in corporate real estate and locations. He met Mitch Rotolo that night in Destrehan by chance, and it sparked a dialogue.
By July 2008, Calongne and his partner were signing a franchise agreement.
"I was in the market, looking to transition from working for other people, trying to franchise something," he said.
Chad Calongne's Gonzales store opened in June of 2009. Three-to-four months later Prairieville opened. Prairieville was supposed to be opened in October 2008, but unfortunately litigation delayed them a year.
"We won the lawsuit, but it delayed us quite a bit. I was out of work, with a family and kids, so we got opportunistic and got the Gonzales store."
September 28 marked nine years for the Prairieville location, but Calongne said he's holding off a celebration until the stores reach their tenth anniversary.
Gonzales was the sixth Rotolo's franchise to open.
Calongne's Rotolo's and Mooyah Burger gives back to local communities.
"We did a big fundraiser recently," he said. "A young lady that used to work for me years ago, her mother has cancer, so we did a fundraiser out of both stores for her."
Moreover, Mooyah has done at least one fundraiser recently with Dutchtown High School. Rotolo's also worked with St. John and St. Theresa recently for a PTO fundraiser.
"The fundraisers for us are commonplace," he said. "I don't like to say 'no.' Nobody likes to hear the word 'no.' We get so many requests I don't think the general public even realizes the number of requests we get for sponsorship. Forty-50 a year, and we simply cannot write the check."
However, Calongne welcomes all to partner with his restaurants.
"We want to partner with them," he said. "We want every school in the community to have a Rotolo's night."
This works for both parties. A basic $200 dollar donation could turn into a $600 or even $800 dollar check if the partnership draws the business.
Mooyah, located at 2706 Cabela's Pkwy #140 in Gonzales, La. opened in December of 2015. Throughout the year 2016 Calongne said they were consistently the first, second, or third unit in the chain.
"Since we've opened we've had Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, Which Wich, Bergeron's, Tilted Kilt, Zaxby's and Chick-fil-A come along," he said. "The competition is intense over there. We're still making it and are profitable, but from an owner's standpoint I like to win.
"Mooyah is fresh, never frozen beef, certified angus, and hand-cut fries. We bake our bread in house. Our primary menu item is the hamburger, but we also offer a veggie burger, a turkey burger, Non-GMO buns, a gluten free bun, and an ice burger--a burger wrapped in iceberg lettuce.
"The founder of Mooyah was very big into crossfit, and he kind of followed a paleo diet. He wanted a place to eat healthy but indulge in a burger. We have sweet potato fries. We season them and they're good, especially if you dip them in honey. We also offer hot dogs and have chicken tenders for kids."
"I own six restaurants," Calongne said. "We see thousands of customers each week, but if you have a bad experience you're likely to hear directly from me.
Rotolo's is not fast food pizza in case anyone is wondering. The dough is made fresh everyday.
"The sausage we're using isn't the same sausage on a fast food pizza, and the latest we are rolling out is a cauliflower dough."
Calongne is married with three children. He and his wife Melissa still live in St. Rose. His oldest son is 22. He's a petroleum engineer currently training in Abu Dhabi. He played football for a year at ULL as a long snapper and became a cheerleader. They also have eight-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.
"Being a parent has got to be the most rewarding thing that's ever happened to me," he said.
In 2010 Calongne bought a second home on the Diversion Canal but ended up selling.
"I have so many positive experiences in Ascension Parish," he said, "the people that I've met, the people that have supported me, and the new friends that I've made here. One of the things that I find most unique here is that the restaurant business is tough, but the people of Ascension are so understanding. They're not shy to tell us when we do bad, but after I call them personally they respond better than people anywhere else."
Calongne built six restaurants in 44 months.
"I don't come fed with a silver spoon," he said. "We were able to grow from our success in Ascension. We did not come into business as wealthy people, and we're still not wealthy people."
Moreover, Calongne served in the Louisiana National Guard.
"I was a Black Hawk crew chief," he said, "which is how I put myself through college."
He earned a University of New Orleans degree in finance with a minor in management. He said he wanted to be Donald Trump.
Mooyah recently started a burger bar.
"If you want 20-40 burgers we can give you the burger tray and the bun tray," he said. "If you're doing a party at the plant or at the office, we can send bulk food there and you can still build your own. At Rotolo's we do bulk pasta, bulk salad, sandwiches, and wrap trays. It's actually an area of business that we want to increase."
He added that Iberville / West Baton Rouge was a market that was tough to break into. The Port Allen Store, located at 3857 La Highway 1 South Ste. A, opened in May of 2017.
"We targeted the area three-to-four years ago," he said. "There was no new real estate being built, so it's a key area on the West Side of the bridge. I want the folks in Plaquemine to know that we're there, and that we are a community oriented business. We don't come to a market, make money, and spend it on Ferraris. We're a community partner. We work with Brusly high school."
For now at least, Rotolo's is still a Louisiana-based company. Calongne expressed some dismay about other companies growing here and then leaving. He also discussed a vision for a new highway that should loop around Hammond, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans to encourage commerce.
Aside from Calongne's successes (and failures, two of his eight total restaurants did not survive), Rotolo's Pizza is still a proud, staple Louisiana restaurant.
Today, Mitch Rotolo's son, Mitchell Jr. continues expanding his father's legacy. He is on the world pizza team and performs pizza dough-tossing acrobatics. He's the executive chef of the newest Rotolo's venture, Rotolo's Craft and Crust, located at 411 Ben Hur Road in Baton Rouge, La.
"If you get a chance, go there," Calongne said. "Anything and everything you've ever known about Rotolo's is different. They have their own specialty pizzas and 40-50 beers on tap. It's amazing."
This advertorial was paid for by Beach Pizza Management, LLC.