Families stick together, sink or swim. While that principle doesn’t often survive in a business, Gordon “Butch” Carey, his wife and his three sons understand it is crucial to “making it” in the pizza piazza of central Illinois. Since Butch’s Original Pizza, Inc. was founded 25 years ago, the Carey family has flourished in the creation and production of innovative recipes, continuing to expand their operations and enjoying a satisfying family dynamic.
Although daunting, it was a simple choice to start a pizza business. Butch had long wanted to produce a hearty, filling pizza, and the entire family’s love of the meal made it an obvious winner. Coupled with a rough economy and lack of income in the early ‘80s, the timing was right to enter the food industry. Family members commented that Butch wanted to fill a need in the community, and, speaking to the difficulties of such a task, he was willing to put 25 years of marriage and their home on the line to do so.
Committing to the idea of opening one’s own business is the hard part, Butch’s son Tim explained. “[There has to be] a willingness to give up all of our assets and possessions, just for an idea. The willingness to give up our time, no matter how many hours it took, was and still is the hard part.”
His father agreed. “We knew that it was time to overcome our fears of the future and bear down on our desires, ideas and dreams. We knew that it was time to put the family on the road to emotional success and inner self-satisfaction, no matter what adversities we would have to overcome. Success is the journey, not the goal.”
Starting out on South Adams Street in Peoria, everyone would put in long hours. Without coolers or freezers on-site, every evening the family would load up the pizzas in Tim’s Pontiac Ventura and tote them back to Mom and Dad’s house. The next morning, more raw products would come out of the refrigerator and make the trip back to the warehouse, to be returned home as wrapped pizzas in the evening. The family credits Greg—considered the family’s best cook, except, of course, for Butch’s wife, Barb—with the mouth-watering recipe for the homemade cooked sausage used on their pizzas.
Fortunately, each family member stepped out of the woodwork with his or her own areas of expertise. Barb, a former homemaker, set a high standard for sanitation and used her artistry to hand-draw each pizza’s sign every night. Brothers Steve, Tim and Greg all had experience working in the fast food industry as well as individual talents. Greg was a CAD operator for 10 years and had also been a steamfitter; Tim worked at the Journal Star in graphic design; Steve had experience in sales and advertising. Butch’s colorful background of sales, electronics, teaching and pipefitting—plus his passion for pizza—was a perfect combination.
Before long, Butch says, the family functioned as a “well-oiled machine.” As quickly as the pizzas were made, they flew off the refrigerator shelves. The family marketed to pubs in the area, believing that if a great product was made, it would sell. Right on the money, their beliefs proved to be so accurate that opening a bigger production site was necessary. So just two years after they began the business, the Carey family moved their plant to Morton. Today, the family employs 30 people and produces nearly 5,000 pizzas every day.
The personal element involved in Butch’s Pizza is what the family says makes it stand out from other pizza chains. “The consumer is always looking for a quality product at a reasonable price,” Butch said. “We made our own sausage and blended our own seasoning. We used nothing but premium quality products in the making of our pizza—no additives. We think that is why the consumer took to Butch’s Pizza. We pride ourselves in giving good service and quality products.”
In fact, the customer’s opinion is so important that the Careys developed an Italian sandwich from the locally-famous sausage and had its seasoning put into shakers. Hot sauce, beef sticks, pita pizza sandwiches, cheesy garlic bread and hot tamales are also menu options, providing variety. Business went out-of-state to follow consumers who couldn’t bear to leave the pizza behind, and satellite plans are now a goal of the company. Special measures were taken for healthier pizza, including a method to remove excess oil from the sausage. Butch’s also allows organizations to use their pizzas in fundraising campaigns. In these ways, the family says they try to be loyal to a community who is equally loyal to them.
Although the family knows that competition will be fierce outside of the area, the Carey members have a few tricks up their sleeves. Butch’s Pizza was the first food company in the nation to develop and market, on a wholesale basis, a white pizza with a special garlic sauce on it. Butch’s is also in the process of developing a new type of pizza that will be in stores very soon. Plus, the family participates in the Illinois Product Exposition in Springfield every year, inviting more and more people to taste Butch’s pizza.
Butch’s advice for entrepreneurs: “You have to be willing to give up all of your assets, including your time, your money and your outside thoughts, just for an idea. You must look at all adversity as a challenge, not a threat. If you do not want to, or aren’t willing do these things, you have problems immediately, but if you are willing to do these things and you do not want to lose your family, take them with you. Longevity, quality, service and commitment are the keys to success.”
After 25 years of pizza-making, it might be a bit surprising that Butch hasn’t changed his favorite food; he says he still eats all kinds of pizza, both at home and at restaurants. His advice regarding pizza came without hesitation: his absolute favorite is Butch’s Super Thin Crust Combo.
Despite having an unlimited supply of the saucy, cheesy stuff, Butch says there’s an even bigger reward to the business. “When I am in line at the grocery store, one of the biggest personal thrills I get is seeing someone that has a Butch’s Pizza in their basket. I always want to say something—I don’t—but I sure feel proud.” IBI