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How One Man Started a Business in the COVID-19 Age

The coronavirus hasn’t been kind to most companies, to say the least. Massive layoffs, reduced traffic, rent prices, tumbling stocks, and a lack of loan forgiveness led many small businesses struggling to survive. There are a few winners – cleaning services, streaming platforms, e-commerce, online food delivery services, and so forth – but most mom-and-pop stores face significant hardships.

Restaurants were hit particularly hard from the pandemic. Most of them no longer allow sit-down dining, and customers have to eat on outdoor patios or through take-outs and mobile catering. Their customer base is in even more dire peril because many people are out of work and don’t have as much disposable income.

With all that in mind, it sounds stressful to work at a restaurant during the never-ending pandemic. However, it’s even more mind-boggling to think that someone saw an opportunity and created a new business out of this mess.

The Story of Arin Finger

Arin Finger has been running a successful youth sports league called i9 Sports for the past seven years. They were about to have their biggest Spring season to date, with over 2,500 children signed up to play. Then, the coronavirus hit and changed everything.

Arin and his colleagues spent months preparing for the launch of the league getting everything set up. Facilities were booked, the staff was confirmed, and rosters and schedules were published. Yet, the coronavirus wiped away all their progress. They found themselves drowning in an overwhelming number of refund requests, which caused them to hemorrhage money since they had to cancel their season altogether.

“I had no idea how long this virus was going to last or when I would see money coming in again versus going out,” he said. “Everyone keeps coming out with different predictions, and even the most optimistic ones spell disaster for our business.”

While Arin still had his sports league, he didn’t have any reliable means of income. It seemed as if he was out of luck. He still needed to support his family and look after his employees’ welfare and knew that waiting for things to get better simply wasn’t an option.

While under quarantine, Arin went to a neighborhood park where he saw a man selling wood-fired pizza from a trailer. He ordered a few pizzas to bring back home to his family and made small talk with the owner (who happened to be the same one cooking and serving the pizza).

When Arin asked the man about how business was going under COVID-19, he replied that demand was booming.  

“It hit me later that evening,” Arin said. “Why don’t I start a mobile wood-fired pizza business too? I already have a database of 36,000 members in my youth sports business that I can leverage. It would be the perfect compliment to my existing business once things get back to normal too!”

A Business For The COVID Era

He called his lead soccer instructor, Codey Stetler, the next day. Codey was the perfect partner because he already had a seasoned culinary background, had vast knowledge in dough making from his own family’s Italian heritage and restaurant background.

He’d already worked with Arin for over five years, proving his hard work ethic and had shared his passion for wanting to dive into the newly emerging culture of the food truck industry. Arin knew that Codey would take off and run with a creative menu and proprietary dough making process. Both Arin and Codey trace their lineage back to New York, and their pies are inspired by the healthy and simple goodness of the thin crispy pizza that makes New York pizza one of a kind.

The duo decided upon Dough Riders as a name. It perfectly encapsulated everything their company represented: fresh fired pizza and the mobility to ride up to any occasion to serve their customers fresh hot pizza right out of their 800° brick oven.

Stetler became the head chef and came up with the recipes himself. He created twelve different wood-fired pizzas ranging from the vegetarian-friendly Okie Dokey Artichokie to the meat-filled Ron Swanson. Dough Riders also offers a lot of starters such as garlic knots, pepperoni rolls, and salads.

Dough Rider’s first massive success came during a socially distanced July 4th event at the Sky Crossing Community. Here, residents could order and take home pizza, all while maintaining safety regulations. They sold over 100 pizzas that night.

“We were able to bring the community together,” said Arin. “People got out of their house and felt reconnected with their community. The pizza brought everyone together.”

The Past and Future of Dough Riders

Arin says his biggest inspiration came from his father, who was also a hard-working entrepreneur.

“Over 35 years, he started from nothing and built an incredibly successful landscaping company,” he said. “He worked his ass off in another state and commuted every week to provide a good life for his family. He motivates me and sets the example of being a great father and provider for my family and employees.”

Unfortunately, Arin’s dad passed away on March 9th – not too long before COVID-19 – from a rare blood cancer called Myelodysplastic syndrome. Yet, his legacy lives on through his industrious family members.

“My father taught me everything I know about entrepreneurship, and I dedicated myself to continuing his legacy,” said Arin. “He taught me that you could overcome obstacles if you never give up. He did everything he could to survive, and I’m willing to do the same.”

However, Arin doesn’t want Dough Riders just to be another mobile catering company. He wants to spread the opportunity for anyone to become an entrepreneur.

“Right now, I’m working on franchising our business so that others can operate their own pizza truck under our brand,” said Arin. “This strategic move will not only expand the Dough Riders brand but also give anyone a chance to own their own business. Especially during this pandemic, it became clear that we can deliver the freshness of a restaurant in-dining experience, but bring that to our communities instead of needing them to come to us. We can free ourselves from high overhead and have the freedom to be anywhere while exploring new communities, industries, and people. I believe we have a great concept, brand, and recipes to make this a national low barrier to entry successful franchise to be locally available to more cities.”

He knows that countless others suffered from the pandemic just like him. Thanks to his business’s mobility, customers can get fresh wood-fired pizza straight from the oven without potentially exposing themselves or others to the virus. Arin plans to further give back to the community by visiting vulnerable populations and who cannot leave their homes, such as seniors, homeless shelters, and low-income neighborhoods.

“It’s not just about the wood-fired pizzas,” said Arin. “It’s all about the wood-fired pizzas. Even during the worst pandemic the world has experienced, I believe our fresh pizzas bring fresh hope to you!”

Patrick W. Dunne is a freelance writer and the Head Journalist for Unstoppable Branding Agency, a PR & media firm that covers disruptive stories of experts, authors, and speakers.

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