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Andrew DanaAndrew Dana is the Founder and Co-owner of Timber Pizza Company and Call Your Mother Deli. He started both successful restaurant concepts in Washington, D.C., establishing them as local favorites known for their high-quality and creative food offerings. Prior to launching his two restaurant brands, Andrew served as the Director of Business Development at Everfi, a company that powers social impact through education. He prides himself on being a new dad, a Washington D.C. native, and an encyclopedia of carbohydrate knowledge.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Andrew Dana shares how he turned a business school project into fulfilling entrepreneurial dreams
  • Why a focus on creating a memorable experience is important for a restaurant
  • Andrew advocates for simple, quality ingredients to develop an award-winning recipe
  • Hiring great people and implementing systems to maintain brand magic across multiple locations
  • Providing perks, growth opportunities, and a fun work culture to retain talented employees
  • How challenges can lead to business improvements through perseverance
  • How new restaurateurs can be hands-on and outwork the competition in the early years

In this episode…

Opening just one successful restaurant takes passion, persistence, and a focus on creating an unforgettable customer experience. But what are the primary factors in building a whole brand of thriving restaurants?

According to Andrew Dana, Co-owner and Founder of Call Your Mother Deli and Timber Pizza Co., the key to building a successful restaurant brand involves a few core elements. First, it’s crucial to have a deep passion for the product — developing a unique, high-quality menu item through trial-and-error and a focus on quality ingredients is vital. However, Andrew emphasizes that the experience is just as important as the food itself — creating a fun, memorable atmosphere through factors like music, ambiance, and exceptional customer service. At the heart of Andrew’s approach is cultivating a vibrant, engaged work culture. He prioritizes hiring people who will have fun and enjoy coming to work every day, offering them perks like gym memberships, language classes, and opportunities for career growth to incentivize his team and show they are valued.

On this episode of the Top Business Leaders Show, Andrew Dana, Co-owner and Founder of Call Your Mother Deli and Timber Pizza Co., chats with Rise25’s Chad Franzen about keys to building successful restaurant brands. Andrew shares his passion for carbohydrates and how it inspired his pizza concept. He explains how starting with a mobile pizza oven allowed him to learn the business before opening his first brick-and-mortar location, and emphasizes the importance of creating a memorable customer experience.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:02

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show, powered by Rise25 Media. We featured top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen 0:18

Chad Franzen here co-host of the show where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our spot on series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more go to or email us at Andrew Dana is co owner and founder of Timber Pizza Company and Call Your Mother Deli. He wants to know in the boxing ring to know at starting restaurants and decent on the golf course. Andrew is a brand new dad, proud DC native, and an encyclopedia of carbohydrate knowledge. And overall a great guy. Andrew, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you? 

Andrew Dana 1:24 

Oh, wow, incredible.

Chad Franzen 1:27 

Good. How did you become interested in carbohydrates?

Andrew Dana 1:32

Oh, man, I’ve you know, I’ve been a carbs man since before I can remember. So growing up, my dad would go get bagels every Saturday. And I remember I would sort of eat nosh on a bagel while I was thinking about my other bagels that I was going to have. So I would sort of have an appetizer bagel while I was like, okay, and this one’s going to have melted cheese and this one’s going to have peanut butter. So from as long as I can remember I’ve loved food, love carbs. So it’s just just been in me, I guess.

Chad Franzen 1:58

Would you say based on your knowledge and based on what you hear the carbohydrates get a bad rap.

Andrew Dana 2:05 

100% 100% carbs. Carbs give us energy. They’re good for you. The guy who just won the New York Marathon. You know what he had for breakfast today? The marathon and Bulla oatmeal, carbohydrates people? Let’s go. Come on. 

Chad Franzen 2:19 

So, you know, you’re a founder of two restaurants. How did you kind of begin your journey in the hospitality industry?

Andrew Dana 2:24

Yeah, you know, I like had odd jobs in college and stuff like that. But you know, I think the dream really started to grow when I was in grad school. So I went to Fordham to get my MBA, focus in marketing. And, you know, while I was there, I was living in Brooklyn and just eating at these like world class restaurants just like not only is the food great, but the experience the ambiance, everything’s just top notch. And I was like, just really fallen in love with the industry. So I actually wrote my capstone business school project on a pizza restaurant, thinking like, Oh, that’d be a fun sort of, you know, pie in the sky dream one day. So I graduated, moved back to D.C. and was working for an education technology company and like, listen, good company, good job of making decent money. But I couldn’t get the idea of opening a pizza restaurant out of my head, just like the idea grew bigger and bigger every day. So after two years of working for this company, just one night, I was like, I have to chase my dreams, like I have to go do this. And so I started to look at like actual locations, and I would tour the locations and they would be asking these questions. And like, I didn’t even know the questions meant, I definitely didn’t know the answer. And I like I didn’t even know what the question was. So I was like, Okay, I need like, what’s a bite size way I can, like, dip my toes into the water, and came up with a mobile pizza oven. So it’s not quite a food truck. But we’re pulling a woodfired oven behind like a 1967 Chevy C 10 truck, and just sort of like learning on the go, you know, going to every Farmers Market any like anybody who would have us anywhere we would show up for two years and you know, got pretty good at making pizza and really learning about sort of how important service and all that was. So after ‘11-’14 opened our first pizza restaurant, June 2016, and sort of just been off to the races ever since. 

Chad Franzen 4:08 

Wow, amazing. So how did you kind of come up with good pizza?

Andrew Dana 4;13 

As I said, I’ve been eating carbs my whole life. So I had like a vision of what I wanted it to be like I really like I love New York style like Dec oven pizza where it has the crispy bottom. But then I also love Neapolitan pizza like I love the char of the fire and I love the fresh mozzarella. And I was like why can’t these two just like have a baby right? So I was calling it Neapolitan ish, where it was cooked in woodfired oven but at a lower temperature. So it’s crispy Allah like a New York style pizza. And then we’re using like, you know, cheese blends like New York, but then fresh mozzarella like a Neapolitan. So we just sort of I had this vision of like, how can we combine the two then I just started reading a ton about dough and pizza and just just started doing recipe testing. I was you know, I was doing this in my parents back alley, which sometimes they enjoyed. Sometimes they’re like, oh my god, what is our son done? Worked out.

Chad Franzen 5:10

So what was most? I mean, I’m sure you have a huge list but what was most surprising to you as you got started in 2014 with your kind of your makeshift food truck type situation.

Andrew Dana 5:24

What was most surprising? I mean, I’m like the food level, right? Like I was not a chef, I had no chef background, I was learning all this on the fly. So how much temperature affects dough was like, I couldn’t believe it the first time like, it was a hot you know, humid summer day and we opened up the dough and it all over approved because when it’s hot and humid, the East just goes nuts. I opened up the dough tray and was like, What the hell like I have soup here. So there was like a lot to learn on the food side, right? Which eventually we met. My now-wife and business partner, Danny, she came on as Chef and really helped stabilize a lot of things. But I think the other thing that I learned that I think I sort of like knew, but like really solid was, people don’t go just to eat just for the food. Like it’s an experience. And that’s like from your first touch point to like, how warm is the goodbyes, you leave? Right? And so even when we’re selling pizza at a farmers market, we’d have great tunes, we’d be dancing, whoever’s taken orders would be, you know, super friendly. When we’re cutting the pizza. We’re saying Have a great day. You know, Billy, all that stuff. So, you know, we’d like from the get go, it was really supposed to be like a, you know, an experience, not just about the food? 

Chad Franzen 6:37 

Was the experience and the food kind of your marketing? Or did you do other things besides, you know, obviously going and being the guy at the events, or being the guy at the farmers market? Which is great, great marketing. But did you do anything broader than that? Or was it just kind of in that way? 

Andrew Dana 6:51

Yeah, I mean, that was like the lion’s share of it, for sure. Like I always said, the way we started was like marketing where you didn’t lose money. So that was kind of cool, where you’d actually be selling. But then like, obviously, we did a ton of social media stuff. You know, back in 2014, a bunch of food trucks were really taking off in DC. This was like when the whole food truck movement was exploding. So we did like different collaborations with different food trucks just to get in front of different eyeballs. So like us, just showing up and selling and being ourselves was definitely like 90% of it. Yeah. But then doing collaborations with other food businesses to try and get in front of other people, and then really relying on Instagram, and a little bit of Facebook, and Facebook’s pretty much out now. 

Chad Franzen 7:34

But so you did that for two years. And then your first brick and mortar came in 2016 was Timber Pizza Company. How did that go?

Andrew Dana 7:44 

You know, so we opened June 28. And I think we had like $3,000 in the bank. And we knew we had payroll in two weeks. And I was like, we gotta make money from day one. We don’t have time to not be profitable. We got to figure this out now. And thank God, it was busy out of the gates. And it went really, really well for the first year. So the first year was great, right? And then so we’ve been open about a year. And then Bon Appetit comes out with their top 50 best new restaurants list. And we didn’t even know this list was a thing. And then we were on it. And like overnight, our sales went up 40% sort of now sustained, you know, eight years later, whatever it is. So that really changed the game. So we’re like the first year went great. And then it went sort of better than best case scenario after that for the second year. And that’s what led us to be able to open more timbers and then that led to us meeting our initial investor and business partner and Call Your Mother and sort of us cooking up the Call Your Mother dream.

Chad Franzen 8:26

So when you open up a brick and mortar did you have kind of, I mean, obviously you already you were already confident your products and maybe maybe your service, although I’m sure there was more service. Now that’s brick and mortar. Did you have kind of a vision for the vibe or how you wanted the place to feel and take me through what that was, is? 

Andrew Dana 9:00 

Yeah, so I I can sort of envision the finished product before sometimes I even have like a name right. So I knew I wanted this like the pizza restaurant, I wanted it to feel like summer camp in the Adirondacks. I don’t know how I came up with that. But that was the VOCs I wanted, like tons of reclaimed wood and like a copper bar top and, you know, a bunch of tunes from like the late 90s When I was in middle school, so I could like envision the experience where it’s, it’s fun, it’s loud, you order at the counter, and then the food gets brought to you. So it’s not like too stuffy, you know, server style. And then I wanted everything to be communal. So everything on the menu you can get for one or to share. So you can get a cocktail and a bottle to share or as a one you can get the salads in solo portions or to share. And then there was just picnic tables. So you were like, forced to sit next to your neighbors. And it just led to this sort of like electric environment at the you know, that first year where it’s just like so fun and you’re rubbing elbows and everything and everybody’s sharing everything. So I sort of saw that vision and then we sort of built around it to make it come to life. 

Chad Franzen 10:08

Were enough, when you first opened were enough people aware of your brand because of you know, the prior two years that it was not that big of a deal or did you have To make some

Andrew Dana 10:16

It was like a little of both, like we had built a decent following, but nothing like crazy. You know, we had been doing basically farmers markets five days a week hitting all different parts of the D.C. area. So we did okay following like Washington City Paper ranked as one of the best three pizzas in D.C. So we’re like building a name for ourselves. But then we definitely like we had to build a more because, you know, sales that work at a farmers market are very different than sales that work out of a restaurant. So we definitely had to amp it up a little bit. And, you know, most of our stuff has been organic, just getting on some cool live Washingtonian, putting us on like the top restaurant list all that stuff. So I think in restaurants, for sure, like the more organic the PR can be, the better. And we’re just very blessed to get on a lot of sort of cool organic lists, and that helped to sort of grow the clientele.

Chad Franzen 11:09 

I’m just saying that helps them when you open to other locations, and people already know about you.

Andrew Dana 11:13

For sure, for sure. So then we had, you know, a brand name around timber in the in the market. And so when we announced we’re gonna open Call Your Mother, like, before we even opened the sort of the reception to that was crazy, where people were so excited, I think, you know, we’ve built up a reputation making pretty good pizza, let’s see what these cats can do. And they do bagels, and then we sort of follow the same exact game plan. So we sold at a farmers market for basically a year before we opened the first brick and mortar Call Your Mother. And we could not make enough at the farmers market. So we’re you know, it sort of turned it took on this life of its own. There was long lines it was selling out. And then we opened the first color mother, October 2018. And it was just bananas from day one, like lines down the block where we like looked at each other and said, oh shit, like, how are we going to make this many bagels? So and went from being like, is anybody going to show up to like, Oh my God, how are we going to like handle this? Many people make this many vehicles. 

Chad Franzen 12:14

So yeah, I want to talk to you a little bit more about Call Your Mother but how did you? You know, I’ve eaten millions of pizzas. I love pizza, but I couldn’t come up with like an award winning pizza recipe. How did you kind of develop that?

Andrew Dana 12:30

Yeah, I mean, you know, I think it started with that foundation of having like a crispy crust in that wood fired oven. And then it was just like not doing too much. And using great ingredients. I think a lot of times people try and do too much. And I think part of the blessing is like we weren’t chefs to start out with, right, so we weren’t trying to make things too Sheffy. We’re just like, okay, zucchini in season, I can wrap my head around that what can we do with zucchini, and we’d love to keep things pretty simple and fresh and seasonal. And then being at all the farmers markets. You’re just like rubbing elbows with the best farmers and purveyors in the markets. So you’re like building these great relationships with them. And so, you know, I just walked down and I say, Okay, what’s in season and they say, Oh, we have the best whatever, nectarines and we’re like, okay, let’s put a nectarine on a pizza. And we ended up doing a pizza with nectarine, jalapenos and bacon that sold like crazy. So it was like keeping it simple using just great ingredients. And then just, you know, trying to come up with some interesting combinations.

Chad Franzen 13:33

Have you always had this kind of entrepreneurial spirit? You know, most people feel like people who aren’t entrepreneurs feel like they could never open a business because they don’t have everything figured out already. Have you always been like this?

Andrew Dana 13:43

You know, like, when I look back, it’s so it’s like a sort of Yes, right, like so when I was in fourth grade. I remember making bracelets to sell in fourth grade, just like a little hustle. And then I remember doing like lemonade stands. But then I sort of lost it for a while like I didn’t do anything entrepreneurial in high school or college. I think you sort of hear how hard it is. And I think I said oh, like maybe it’s too hard. I can’t do that. And it actually took going to business school for me to get some of that like confidence and mojo back where I just had this moment where I was like, nobody here knows what the eff they’re doing. Like we’re all sort of trying to figure it out. Right. And so I had this moment where I was like, if they can do it, why can’t I do it? So I think it was like in me at like a young age lost the confidence for you know, eight to 10 years and then then got the mojo back and went for it.