Entrepreneurs find success in Provo ‘incubator’

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JDawg’s original location is just feet away from the shack where it all started. (Savannah Hopkinson)

In the basement suite of Campus Plaza resides Slab Pizza, a pizzeria selling massive slabs of pizza. Just around the corner is Cupbop, a Korean barbecue encouraging customers to “shhhh … just eat!” Across the street is JDawgs, whose hot dogs are given a trademark scoring to soak in as much sauce as possible.

These businesses, along with the dozens of others that have started in Provo, have discovered the city’s business “incubator.” It’s difficult to say exactly what it is — but something has turned Provo into the perfect location for entrepreneurs and business start-ups.

 

A mural on JDawg’s wall proudly claims Provo as “where it all began.” (Savannah Hopkinson)

Provo has hosted dozens of new businesses and franchises in recent years, but the origins of businesses here go back decades. One such example is the local staple Brick Oven, a family pizzeria that has served the Provo community for over 60 years.

Brick Oven’s path is filled with changes. When the family-owned restaurant first opened in 1956, it was named “Heaps A Pizza.”

“We’ve changed as well as the people around us have changed,” said Chris Ashley, assistant marketing director at Brick Oven.

Brick Oven’s image has gone from one of a college student destination to one of a family restaurant. According to Ashley, the restaurant used to have a DJ and hosted college parties and dances. Current customers would find that hard to believe; today’s Brick Oven is marked by its quiet, family-friendly atmosphere.

This rebranding has been successful for the company, however. Today, Brick Oven has three locations across Utah and is continuing to grow.

Slab Pizza is known for serving large slices of pizza. It first opened in 2010 in a building half the size of its current location. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Just down the street from Brick Oven lies Slab Pizza, which was founded by Andy Gartz and Eric Beutler eight years ago.

Gartz said Slab Pizza began with half the space it has now, and he only made 10 to 15 pizzas a day. Today, he says he makes “a lot more than 15.”

Slab Pizza has also begun to franchise and has opened another location in Lehi.

Another booming success is Cupbop, a Korean BBQ that has its origin in food trucks. Along with the trucks, Cupbop now has eight locations in Utah, two in Idaho and three in Jakarta, Indonesia, as of 2017.

Cupbop’s first brick-and-mortar location is at the foot of BYU’s southern campus. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Another popular Provo locale is Sodalicious, a soda shop that mixes its drinks with Torani’s flavored syrups to create inventive new flavors. Sodalicious opened its first shop near the Provo Public Library in 2013. Since then, the business has exploded, and 22 different locations opened in Utah, Arizona and Idaho.

Sodalicious Founder and CEO Kevin Auernig started Sodalicious after his wife, Annie, came up with the idea. Annie had been working as the head costume designer for the LDS Church’s Bible videos and made mixed sodas for others on set. She and her friends started giving the drinks funny names, and as time passed, someone suggested they could earn money from the drinks.

Auernig says others have recognized the entrepreneurship in Provo. He mentioned that Daymond John from ABC’s “Shark Tank” acknowledged Mormons as entrepreneurs.

“I’ve heard people say it’s because of our pioneer heritage — I don’t know,” Auernig said. “I think there’s just lots of people who feel empowered. They feel that they can go accomplish whatever it is they set out to do.”

Ideas for businesses and products are being produced all over Provo. FiberFix, a stiff tape that claims to be “strong as steel,” went viral for its commercial featuring Jason Grey of Studio C. The video, titled “Redneck Drives a Duct Taped Car Off a Cliff!” has over 2.5 million views.

FiberFix inventor Derek Rowley said he and his partners found success through BYU’s Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. After developing FiberFix, Rowley and his partners, guided by the Rollins Center, took the tape to competitions and won $25,000 for its production and distribution.

Rowley credits programs like the Rollins Center for his success. He also credits the spirit of independence in Provo for the substantial number of businesses started here.

“As a culture, Mormons pride themselves on being self-reliant,” he said. “So if you can go create your own job, that’s very attractive.”

Andrew Lund is in the process of starting the Up Close Concert Series, a new way for concert-goers to experience performances by their favorite artists.

The Up Close Concert Series’ goal is to create the ideal concert experience for both spectators and artists. It hosts smaller venues, offers concert-goers free snacks and allows spectators to be within just a few feet of the artists. So far, the project has proved to be popular. The first performance, which featured artists Jenn Blosil, Kimberly Knighton and Garon Brett, sold out.

Lund intends to continue the concert series when he returns to Provo this fall.

There’s one thing these entrepreneurs agree on — Being your own boss is no cakewalk.

“Any business is solving problems,” Auernig said. “Really, we’re solving problems every day. … But there is something rewarding in running your own business.”

This rewarding feeling is something Gartz also feels. “It’s fun being part of a city — feeling like you contribute,” he said.

Slab Pizza can be found in the basement suite of Campus Plaza. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Although Lund is still working on establishing his business, he’s learned to be true to his intentions.

“Hold on to the idea of what you have,” he said. “Once you get into it, it’s really easy to lose sight of what you’re creating. But if you have a vision of what and why you’re doing it, you can get through those hard times.”

Auernig said fledgling entrepreneurs should, “Make progress every single day.”

“Whatever it is you’ve set out to do, whatever it is you’re working on or trying to accomplish, if you just commit to making progress on it every single day, you pick up momentum, and it’s amazing the doors that will open up as you just keep at it,” he said.

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