The restaurant business is tough. Owners put in long hours and deal with staff that come and go. The ability to have consistent quality and service to keep and attract customers is challenging.
So, it’s particularly noteworthy when an independent restaurant remains open for 20 years.
When Ingleside Village Pizza opened on July 28, 1992, at 2395 Ingleside Ave. in Macon, owner Tina Dickson wasn’t really sure what the future held.
“I was just hoping that we would have a pretty good run of it,” said Dickson, who was 29 at the time. “I didn’t see too far into the future. It was day by day, and I just felt it was something I had to do.”
The restaurant -- often called IVP -- will celebrate its anniversary all week with specials leading up to a grand prize drawing on Saturday when a lucky pizza lover will win a pizza a month for a year.
Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said the longevity of the restaurant points to the leadership of the owner.
“It takes a very skilled, intuitive operator because restaurants depend on responding as quickly as they can to their customers’ and employees’ changing wants and needs,” said Bremer, a former restaurateur. “So, therefore, one has to be very close to their business and be able to respond very quickly to what consumers want. I also think it’s a great testament to somebody’s attention to detail because one certainly has to provide great service and consistent, great quality food and consistency in the ambiance of the establishment. I think it’s a testament to her business acumen that she has been able to stay relevant for 20 years.”
The early years
Dickson had the restaurant business in her blood before opening IVP. After graduating from Georgia State College with a degree in hotel, restaurant and travel administration, she held various management jobs with Domino’s Pizza. She moved around a bit with the company, but when Domino’s downsized, Dickson was told she’d have to go back to being a store manager.
She decided to take her experience elsewhere and worked for the former Victorian Village and Stanley Café in Macon before those businesses closed down. While working at The Rookery, she met her husband and later opened IVP.
Dickson and business partner Saralyn Harvey initially opened the pizza restaurant together, then Dickson bought Harvey out after three years. Harvey owns Good to Go Restaurant & Catering on Riverside Drive.
The partners thought they knew who their customers would be. They were wrong.
“We really thought we would be a college hangout,” Dickson said. “How many colleges do we have here? But it did not happen. It’s been families, and we have a lot of elderly customers.”
During the first four months IVP was open, Dickson and Harvey were there every day from opening until closing, six days a week. A “big moment” came when they had trained enough staff to be able to leave the restaurant for a while, Dickson said.
The restaurant closed for about three weeks in 1998 when the interior was remodeled.
The IVP brand grew a few years ago when Dickson opened a franchise store on Montpelier Avenue in the College Hill Corridor. In another major move for her business, after years of leasing, Dickson bought the former Len Berg’s building at 2396 Ingleside Ave. across the street from her original eatery.
Just about everything on the menu has remained since the beginning, but brownies and Caesar salad have been added. A breakfast pizza, she thought would be a hit, did not go over well, so she switched it to a white pizza.
“It was a big success,” she said.
Food, atmosphere draw customers
When she opened the business, IVP had about eight employees. That’s grown to 21. Dickson said she’s had a couple of employees stay about 10 years and a dishwasher that’s been with her 19 years.
“I keep them,” she said. “It’s a good place to work.”
The restaurant has remained open six days a week. It used to be open for lunch on Sundays but few customers came and those hours were cut.
However, “Sunday night is one of our busiest nights,” Dickson said.
Many of her customers are regulars, and she has now served more than one generation.
Bill Causey has been eating at IVP since it opened, and now averages a visit a week.
“I would go more, but other people get tired of it,” said Causey, who works for the Bibb County engineering department. “I love that place. I just can’t get enough. I usually get the ultimate pizza, but I’ve been known to eat their sandwiches.”
Ingleside Village Pizza has been a sponsor for Causey’s bicycle team, NeuroCycling, for about five years, and its jester logo is on the jerseys, he said. Dickson also provides pizzas for the volunteers during an annual race.
“She’s engaged in the community,” Causey said.
Bremer, with the state restaurant association, said restaurants add a lot to the community.
“It’s one of the toughest, hardest businesses, but it certainly has tremendous rewards in terms of young people you get to work with and careers you help to develop,” she said. “Restaurants are the place where we do business, we celebrate occasions. Restaurants are a part of the fiber of our communities and truly bring people together.”
Causey said he not only loves the food but, “It’s the ambiance too -- I just like the place,” he said. “I have a grandson about three and for a kid there is no end of things to look at. I mean there are colors, shapes, sizes, it’s like a circus. I love taking him over there and he loves going.”
Causey said he has been surprised at how widely known the restaurant is to people outside of Macon.
“I used to think she was embedded in that Vineville-Ingleside neighborhood, but I know of people who are driving from outer counties to come to that place.”
Dickson’s expectations for the next 20 years are as understated as when she opened the restaurant.
“I hope we just keep going,” she said.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.