By Jane Bartnett
Fans of Solorzano’s pizza won’t notice any changes to that famous Hoboken, New Jersey pie. Despite changing ownership hands at the business’ Gulf Gate location, the legendary Italian sauce will remain the same and deliveries will continue to Siesta Key.
The new man running the pizzeria on Superior Avenue is Kenny Palin, the Solorzano’s long-time general manager, who began working with Phil Solorzano as a delivery guy some seven years ago. He also now owns the Long Boat Key Solorzano’s.
In November, the two men completed a license agreement.
“I’m proud of Kenny,” said Solorzano, whose pizzeria used to be located in Siesta Key’s Village. “He’s running my business as he always did. He always ran the stores as though he owned them.”
And the two continue to talk every day, as they always have.
“Kenny’s going to make it better than it ever was,” said Solorzano with great pride. “I haven’t worked with an apron on for about four years thanks to Kenny.”
For Palin, the transition from general manager of the growing pizzeria to owner of two stores was seamless. The Gulf Gate store features a full bar with top-shelf liquor, offers take out as well as in-store dining, and does a robust business.
“We only use top-line products,” he said of his restaurant.
Sounding very much like his mentor, he proclaimed, “It’s the best pizza for your buck.”
During the past few months, Palin has redesigned the menu to make it easier to read and he’s added three different types of French fries that include traditional style; the “Hoboken Heart Lovers Fries” that are topped with pepperoni, sauce, meatballs and bacon; as well as the “Buffalo Chicken Fries” that are served with chicken, cheese, ranch and buffalo sauce.
To boost business during the early days of the week, Palin launched the “Two for Tuesdays”take-out special featuring two large cheese pizza pies for $28.
Later in the week, every Thursday night is Lady’s Night. From 9 p.m. on, mixed drinks are $5 and from 10 a.m. to midnight, a new in-store-only special feature includes two slices of cheese pizza and a soft drink, water or iced tea for $6. For $7, select two non-cheese slices. If you’d rather have a beer with that slice, pick any two slices and a beer of your choice for $10.
In all, there are a total of 15 different Solorzano’s pizzas to choose from.
This month, Palin is planning two special events.
“Super Bowl Sunday is Feb. 13. We have the biggest 18-foot TV in Gulf Gate and two additional monitors on the walls behind the bar.”
To celebrate, he’s planning a dine-in-only Super Bowl party pizza lovers’ special. Football fans visiting the restaurant will be able to enjoy two large pizzas with three toppings and a bucket of six beers, domestic or foreign, for $59.
“That’s a great deal for a small group of four to six people,” he said.
On Valentine’s Day, Solorzano’s will prepare heart-shaped pizzas for take-out or for in-store dining. For those dining-in at the restaurant, a Cupid’s Special will be on the menu featuring a bottle of red or white wine and a pizza with two toppings for $39.
“Eventually,” he said, “we’ll do an outdoor back patio with round two-top tables and seating for 16 to18 people. I also want to add TVs on the front.”
Palin, who grew up in south Boston, had his own e-commerce business before relocating to Sarasota.
“I’m naturally a business man,” he said. “After working with Phil for a while, Phil turned me into a manager, and then I went from co-general manager to general manager. I’ve been taking care of as many as four Solorzano’s restaurants for the past few years. Sarasota is home for me. I’m never leaving.”
After completing licensing agreements with Palin and another restauranteur for his University Parkway location, Solorzano is forging new territory and opening a Solorzano’s Pizzeria in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park. Now that he has made Tennessee his new home, Solorzano plans to return to Sarasota every few months.
“Kenny has been my man, the brother I never had, he’s like family,” he said of his friend and protege. “When Kenny offered to buy the two stores from me, I couldn’t imagine anyone else better. My dream of opening my first store in Siesta Key came through and now my family and I are in Tennessee and I’m starting a new Solorzano’s.”
The Gulf Gate store delivers anywhere on Siesta Key, Sarasota or Longboat Key. Order online at nobodymakespizzalikewedo.com or call (941) 924-5800.