By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Best friends since second grade, Gene Mongan and Kurt Raepple still enjoy coming to work every day at the business they started when the were barely out of high school.
Mongan and the Raepple brothers - Kurt, Mark and Jay - took over John's Pizza & Subs on Niagara Falls Boulevard in 1982 and this year are celebrating 35 years in the competitive restaurant business. Though they were young, when opportunity came knocking, they heard it louder than any whispers of doubt.
"We didn't really look at it as a huge risk. We looked at it as an opportunity to kind of grow and do something on our own and kind of control our own fate," Kurt Raepple said of going into business.
"You only get so many opportunities in life," he said. "Gene and I both got this put in front of us and we ran with it."
Even now, they don't look at it as a huge risk. Mongan said there were a lot of "scary moments" early on, but he said back then, "How bad could it get, right?"
Today they can ask, "How good can it get?" Their first store is still located on Niagara Falls Boulevard, but they've added three more, on Grand Island, Delaware Avenue and Campbell Boulevard. At no point did they jump in without doing their homework.
"Before we opened any one of our stores, we talked long and hard about risk-reward situations and challenges that we would face in front of us," Raepple said. "But we always took the approach that we would cover our bases, look at worst-case scenario and what our options were, and move forward from there."
Mongan said today there are literally hundreds of food places within a mile of their NF Boulevard location, but they've outlasted names like Fat Man's, Pizza Delight, and Big John's. In the beginning, they were right next door to a Burger King and watched cars drive in and out, hoping for just a portion of that Whopper traffic.
"We felt very threatened by Chuckie Cheese," Mongan recalled, laughing now at the memory. Now everyone else is looking at John's Pizza & Subs for their recipe for success. They said they focus on discipline, quality, and customer satisfaction.
Mongan said a key is that the partners put in the hours early on and paid close attention to the details. "We're very disciplined about how we do what we do," he said.
"We all had a sense of what we wanted from the start," Raepple said of the team's philosophy of commitment to quality, "We wanted high-quality food - we buy the best products we can. We try to give the best possible service we can - we try to hire good people. ... It's not always perfect, but we do the best we possibly can. When we get up to go to work, we look at it as a challenge every day."
The end result is customer satisfaction that makes first-time customers repeat customers.
"How can we make our service better, how can we make our properties look nicer, how can we make it easier and better for our customers?" Raepple said.