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Young Ones To Watch: O.A.R. Rocker Jerry DePizzo’s Latest Side Gig is Growing a Budding Burrito Business

When he’s not making music and touring the country with his O.A.R. bandmates, DePizzo is hard at work bringing emerging brand Big Mamma’s Burritos into the spotlight.

By Madeline LenaStaff Writer
Updated 2:14PM 12/02/19

Imagine if your job that consisted of playing saxophone and guitar for a wildly popular rock band was only half of what you did on a given day. Such is the case for Jerry DePizzo, 39, whose two-decade career as a member of O.A.R. has recently given way to a new entrepreneurial endeavor with Ohio-based burrito brand Big Mamma’s Burritos

DePizzo and business partner Matt Crumpton bought Big Mamma’s in February 2019 after successfully growing calzone-focused QSR franchise D.P. Dough to the point of acquisition earlier in the year. As the two set out to find their next venture, they seized on what they see as a prime opportunity with Big Mamma’s, a brand that breaks the mold of what a burrito can be with ingredients like tater tots, buffalo chicken and that which comprises a Philly cheesesteak

1851 caught up with DePizzo to learn about how his experience in the music industry helps him succeed in business, why he’s excited to grow Big Mamma’s Burritos through franchising and what advice he’d give his younger self.  

1851: We have plenty of questions about your music career, but we’re curious about how you were first introduced to business. O.A.R. took off while you were in college and never stopped—did you gain any “traditional” business experience or was it just learned through exposure along the way? 

DePizzo: We certainly adopted the learn-as-you-go model. I have the great privilege and opportunity to be in business with my four best friends. O.A.R. has basically been a band since the 8th grade; this has really been our only job in our lives, so a lot of it was just figuring it out as we went along. We understood from the very get-go that it was really up to us to create our own opportunity, and in order to do so, we needed to make both smart business decisions and good quality creative ones without having to sacrifice the creative ones. It was trial by fire—and here we are 20 years later, so I imagine we’ve learned a thing or two.

1851: For young entrepreneurs looking to grow in any field, approaching things from a practical perspective without sacrificing your creativity is a balancing act. Do you have any learning experiences you can share?

DePizzo: As a rock band, we know that being able to block and tackle is something we need to be really good at. The other thing is that O.A.R. is really a cottage industry—and we need to be the best at reaching O.A.R.’s audience and really connecting with them.

Between those two things, we had to be heavily involved not only in content creation on the music side, but also in the social and video content; in how we engage our audience experientially; and in the e-commerce aspect of things, as well—all are ways in which we can create touchpoints with our audience. But, for all of that, what we really need to be good at is creating music; releasing music; and going out and touring, hitting all of our major and secondary markets in a way that’s comfortable for the band, but also satisfies the need of the audience and keeps the machine growing year-over-year where we’re trying to grow.

We’ve had successes and failures in all of that, but staying on the rail for 20-plus years, in our business, is pretty tough to do. It took having accountability and setting goals.

Both in music and burritos, we use a method called traction. Traction, for me, is really an architecture on business management where you have a five-year plan and a 10-year plan, and all of your yearly plans and quarterly goals are all working in tandem to reach where you want to be in five years. I apply a lot of that to what we do in O.A.R. on the back end, and we’ve seen a lot of success and efficiency through that. 

Jerry DePizzo, 39, plays saxophone, guitar and backup vocals for multiplatinum rock band Of A Revolution, better known as O.A.R. (Photo courtesy of Jerry DePizzo).

1851: How did you first meet your business partner Matt Crumpton? 

DePizzo: Matt was writing a book and working in entertainment law when reached out for an interview with me, which is how we met initially. He has a charity called Music Loves Ohio, an organization that creates opportunities for underprivileged kids in Ohio to pursue music, which is a cause that is also close to my own heart. We began working together on that and our friendship grew.

He and his parents purchased the Athens, Ohio location of D.P. Dough, and with six months of restaurant experience, bought the franchise. They got a box of trademarks and not much else, so for the next seven years, they worked feverishly to build the brand of D.P. Dough along with its franchisees and did a great job. I was able to see that from afar, which led me to begin investing in corporate stores.

1851: Tell us about your time with D.P. Dough. How’d you go from being an investor to becoming the brand’s director of growth?

DePizzo: When Matt’s folks were looking to retire in 2018, I was able to step in and help Matt work on some things to ease the transition. I worked on the IT side, running point on the website and helping to manage the internal POS system; I worked on some branding and marketing elements; and worked on franchise sales, as well.

We reached out to our nearest competitor, Calios, about a potential acquisition late last year and a deal was made. Existing Calios locations took on the D.P. Dough brand after the sale, and we’re still involved in the marketing side. Now, we’ve turned to a new brand in Big Mama’s Burritos pretty much right after. 

1851: That’s a ton of different hats to wear in the franchise space while also juggling any second career, let alone one as a touring musician. With a role like that, how do you balance the responsibilities of both?

DePizzo: I can multitask fairly well, and I don’t sleep very much—but I don’t think I require too much sleep. I do my absolute best, but I have the tremendous opportunity to wake up every day and do exactly what I want to do for a living, and it motivates me to get up and get after it. 

1851: What kind of skills does your career in music provide you in your business life?

DePizzo: Rock and roll, at its best, is a really grinding and gritty business. That determination and resiliency are really what stands out. It comes into play even when we’re looking at talent. If I can find an individual who has tenacity and grit, we can teach them the skills—it's tenacity and grit that’s hard to come by. When we find people like that, we’re able to move quickly and grow quickly. 

That’s how I live my life: I get up every day and run full gear until it’s time to call it quits. 

DePizzo (far right) and business partner Matt Crumpton (far left) bought Big Mamma's Burritos in February 2019 and plan to grow the QSR from two to 15 corporate-owned and franchised locations over the next five years (Photo courtesy of Jerry DePizzo). 

1851: How did you first come across Big Mamma’s Burritos and what about it made you decide that this was your next move?

DePizzo: Matt went to school at Ohio University in Athens, where one of our locations is. It’s the quintessential college town—it’s got a real charm to it and is a lot of fun.  OU has also been a part of my life since I was a young kid, as one of my uncles was my role model and he attended the school.

One of our two stores is there, at the epicenter of the university’s culture and nightlife. It’s been around since 2005, so there have been generations of students to whom Big Mamma’s is a part of their college experience. I loved that aspect of having a brand that really touches a demographic during such formative years. We have a lot of fun with that and think it’s something we can really build on. We also have another location in Grandview in Columbus, where there are a ton of young professionals. Restaurants there are all casual and fine dining, so Big Mamma’s really serves a great niche as a quick-service concept. 

Overall, we loved the brand’s raw materials. The burrito is fully customizable, but also really quick and efficient to make—it only takes 34 seconds to make a burrito. I think our speed and customizability together is a huge differentiator for us and something we can do a lot with.  

Our team came in in February of this year, and we’ve been very busy the past several months. We trimmed a store that was trouble and went from three stores to two, focusing heavily on store No. 2. We did a rebrand; implemented training systems; improved the quality of our ingredients; and added vegan and vegetarian options, really going through everything to build on something we already thought was good in order to make it great.

Our five-year plan is to have 15 stores, 10 of which are corporate-owned and five of which are franchised. The areas where we’re looking to grow funnel into and out of [Ohio University], those places you go when you’re done with school and heading out to chase your dreams. In this case, that’s Cleveland; Akron; Cincinnati; Youngstown; and Pittsburgh. The future’s bright for Big Mamma’s. 

1851: How does the amount of success you’ve had in your music career influence your goals for the business and franchise space?

DePizzo: If I use rock and roll to sell burritos or burritos to sell rock and roll, I’m not very good at either. The way I approach it is that I’m starting from scratch and have something to prove—and my livelihood depends on it. That’s not necessarily true, but it’s how I live my life every day in both arenas. It all comes back to tenacity and grit. It's the same principles. I haven’t changed very much since I was a kid—I still get up every day and chase my dreams. 

1851: What advice would you give your younger self?

DePizzo: Keep doin’ it! You know the path so get after it. 

1851: Who is someone you look to for inspiration?

DePizzo: I look at the folks around me—I tip my hat to Matt and have chosen to work with him every day because he’s highly intelligent and a good person who works as hard as I do. The same goes for the guys in the band. We work well together and work hard together, and really all appreciate each other. That goes a long way. I love what I do and who I do it with. 

1851: What’s your favorite O.A.R. song?

DePizzo: We have a new record, The Mighty, that came out in March. There’s a song on it called California, and that song basically says everything I’ve ever wanted to say to my kids in the chorus. That’s my favorite, because the sentiment is to go out there in life and be the best version of you that you can be, and we’ll be here to help you do that.