Andrew Dana ’04 had his first taste of entrepreneurship in 4th grade when he started a bracelet business at John Eaton Elementary School. Despite the early start, Dana could not have foreseen becoming the co-founder of two highly acclaimed eateries: Timber Pizza (est. 2014) and Call Your Mother Deli (est. 2016). Timber Pizza is a pizzeria that many GDS students have come to know and love because of the mouth-watering smells wafting from the pizza oven to the long line of hungry students snaking around the GDS driveway. Call Your Mother Deli serves up bagel sandwiches and coffee in the Park View neighborhood and has added three more locations in the DC area since then.
Augur Bit reporter Elena Forlini interviewed Dana by phone. Excerpts from the interview are below.
Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur while you were at GDS, or did that come along later?
I had this entrepreneurial spirit while I was in high school, but I don’t think I had this “I have to own my own business one day” mentality. I thought I had to go into a traditional career because that is what everyone around me was doing. But after grad school, when I had tried the traditional path for about five years, I realized that nothing clicked. That is when I finally realized that I needed to do my own thing, so I made the leap.
Were your businesses in development for a long time?
I had come to the conclusion I wanted to open a pizza restaurant by early 2013. Opening a restaurant is complicated, though, so I realized it might take a while. I then stumbled across a business that had a pizza oven set up at a farmers market in Brooklyn and realized that was what I needed to start with. I ran the Timber Pizza farmers market stall for about two years until I opened the restaurant in June 2016. It wasn’t until about a year and a half later that we could take a step back and ask ourselves, What’s our next challenge? That is when we came up with the deli idea.
When it became clear that COVID-19 was really going to affect your businesses, what actions did you have to take?
We closed down for two weeks in March; it just didn’t feel safe to stay open. Our starting point was ensuring we did not lay a single person off. To do this, we did an assortment of things. First, we organized a fundraiser to pay staff. Next, Dani [co-owner of Call Your Mother Deli and Timber Pizza] and I cut our own pay for a month. We reopened our businesses in April, and it was incredibly busy. Both pizza and bagels are comfort food and travel well, so I think that’s why we have been so busy during this time. We also added online ordering and that has made things much easier because people don’t have to wait in line or interact with others.
What have you learned that you want to take into the future after COVID about yourself and running businesses?
I have learned that I thrive in chaos. The more things we have going on and the tougher things get, the clearer I think. I think COVID also gave me immense confidence that we are going to be able to grow this business, regardless of what gets thrown at us. I also learned there are no shortcuts in any business; the only way to be successful is to outwork everybody and to do it every day relentlessly.