Nick Pizza, founder of Youth Performing Arts Training Center, started his career in the car business at the age of 18. When he missed the cutoff for college registration due to early release from the military, and had subsequent requests to make an exception denied, he was more determined than ever to prove he could succeed despite a college degree. Pizza started off in the parts department for a Chevrolet dealer and, at the age of 19, became the youngest Parts Manager in New York Tarrytown zone with Chevrolet. After many years in parts management, Pizza went on to start his own auto parts store before leaving his hometown of Middletown, NY and relocating to Deltona, FL in 1982.
"After the move, I eventually ran into a General Manager from a Chevy dealer I knew from the past," Pizza said. "He left the business and started a direct mail company, geared towards dealerships. We met and I talked him into bringing me on-board. I put together a program that eventually got us a contract with GM in the Jacksonville, FL zone. It was a great experience, but I really wanted to solely own my own direct mail company and not just be a partner in his company."
In the late 90s, Pizza launched Nick Pizza, Inc. Over time, through the use of clever marketing tactics, like producing a Mission Impossible audio tape to help Saturn sell cars, Pizza steadily grew the business. In 2000, Pizza was ready for a new challenge. He was eager to follow his true passion and give back to those around him.
Having received a BA degree in bible ministry, "I started a ministry,” he said. "I have a passion for working with young people. My original ministry was K-5 and then the good Lord led me to work with teens. Part of that was introducing them to music and the performing arts. Music has always been with me. I've been in bands and I love the performing arts and drama. We started out by doing concerts in a local church family life center and added concerts in parking lots and other public places. We'd bring in BMX bikers and skateboarders to entertain the kids. We'd give bands and solo artists a chance to get on stage. It was all about helping the youth find their spot in life, or as I like to say, 'Discover your gifts, refine your gifts and use them'."
Through hard work and dedication, and with the financial backing of Nick Pizza, Inc., Pizza moved into an 8,500 sqft building where the quantity and quality of classes, workshops, events and services greatly expanded. Music, dancing and singing classes were added. Pizza hired more instructors who were equally as passionate about introducing youth to the arts and providing them with an affordable creative outlet. With the encouragement of local moms, Pizza started a ballet and hip-hop dance program. By March 2017, Pizza was working with music instructors, students and graduates from places like Stetson University. Eventually, acting classes were added and in April 2017, Youth Performing Arts Training Center, incorporated as a for-profit organization. Pizza shared his thoughts behind this decision and how much the center has grown over the past two years.
"We mainly did this to give Joe Zapata, our Executive Director and my son-in-law, the ability to run the company without having to deal with a board of directors," he said. "It helps to loosen things up a bit. Joe brings a tremendous amount of energy and experience to the team. With his management and retail experience, he puts things together and programs in place that astonish me. Today, we have everything from piano to tuba lesson; to ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop lessons, plus an amazing theater program. We have an incredible team of instructors and we offer something for everyone. We also work closely with the City of Deltona and the Volusia County School System. Right before our summer camp program, we produced Anne of Green Gables with the lead actor being only 14 years old. All six dates were sold out. The Mayor, City Manager and several Commissioners attended and they were all blown away."
Looking ahead, Pizza is planning another performing arts workshop on the recording side of things. He brings in people from the industry and does a free discussion panel where families can attend a Q&A session. On a broader level, Pizza would like to continue to grow the center and impact as many lives as possible. It's always been a dream of his to bring the arts to young people and to give them an opportunity to learn and grow. To see it happen in Deltona (Volusia County) is truly a dream come true for Pizza. Other goals include the possibility of additional facilities.
What advice does Pizza have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "You need to have passion," he said. "You can't just do it for the money. My passion for the advertising and automobile business helped me to build Nick Pizza, Inc. If I didn't, the Youth Performing Arts Training Center wouldn't be here. You also need people who are willing to work with you. You need people with a similar level of drive. Success comes from building the right team around you. Put the right people in the right place and allow them to exercise their talents. Ultimately it comes down to doing what you love and loving what you do. We teach kids to live that way at the Training Center and in our ministries."