For Wayne King and his three children — Tara, Corey and Caleb — things have come full circle, so to speak.
All three of the King children — though you can’t call them children any longer; all three are grown and Wayne and his wife Kim have seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild — worked at Domino’s Pizza over the years. Two of them, Tara and Caleb, served as store managers during the Domino’s days. And now they’re back in the former Domino’s shop, helping their father run Oneida’s newest pizzeria, Baby J’s Pizza.
The pizza business comes naturally to the King family, with the three siblings having so many years invested in making and selling pizzas to Scott Countians. As for their father, he’s brand-new to the art of baking pizza pies. But he’s back home, too, in a round-about way. He spent most of his professional career at Scott County Hospital, where he served in a variety of roles, including respiratory therapist. He was one of nearly 200 Scott Countians who lost their jobs when St. Mary’s closed the hospital seven years ago. He never made it back to his office on the hill — but now he’s working side-by-side with his family, learning an entirely different profession just over the hill from the hospital.
“I’m learning on the go,” King said with a laugh. “I am officially the trash man and the check-writer. And occasionally they make me work the ovens.”
That’s just fine with King, though. Because here, in the small pizza shop, he’s surrounded by those who matter most: his family. And as you listen to King talk about the pizza business, you soon realize that it’s family, along with customer service, that guide his operating principles.
In fact, the name Baby J’s is derived from family. Five of King’s seven grandchildren have names that start with J. There’s James, Jase, Jazz and Jaden. And there’s Jesse Wayne, who was named after his grandfather. He died tragically and unexpectedly in April 13, at the age of just eight weeks. King still gets emotional whenever Jesse’s name is mentioned. But it’s there, on the board in the lobby of the pizzeria, along with the others. In that way, Jesse Wayne’s memory lives on with Baby J’s.
“It’s just kind of a natural fit,” King said of the name. “We were tossing some names around, and Baby J’s just kind of popped out and stuck.”
King’s two oldest grandchildren, Brooke and Destiny, are already working at Baby J’s. King said there will be a place for the younger kids, as well — if they want the job. In fact, one of them — nine-year-old James Wyatt — likes to hang around the store when he can, and has taken some orders from customers.
“He can work the computers better than we can,” King said. “One of the first orders he did was on the phone, and the lady came in and wanted to meet the young man who took her order. He also took Judge (Jamie) Cotton’s order, and he was proud of that.”
The road to Baby J’s began soon after Five Kids closed last year. Tara worked the final shift at the restaurant when it closed on June 17. King points out the irony; he worked the final shift at St. Mary’s just up the hill when it closed in 2010. Weeks later, the building was ready to go on the market. King and his daughter began tossing around the idea of a pizza store. By November, they had officially acquired the facility.
But could an independent pizzeria make it, in a town of less than 4,000 where there’s a well-known chain offering cheap pizzas, as well as other restaurants that specialize in pizzas?
“I talked to different ones — bankers, small business owners, and people like that,” King said. “We were running numbers, based on our population, and it was doable. So we started pushing forward with it.”
So far it has worked. In fact, King said, he’s been “overwhelmed” by the response from the community. His philosophy? Offer exceptional customer service. Everything else will take care of itself.
“I think that’s key to anything you do,” King said. “If you don’t have quality customer service, you won’t be in service very long, because you won’t have customers.”
King glows as he tells stories about customers who have bragged on his staff. There are 19 of them, mostly high school students, and he says their approach to their job is tremendous.
“I can’t say enough about these kids; they’re phenomenal,” King said. “They have a good work ethic, they’re courteous, they take care of the customers. We have been truly blessed with the staff that we’ve got. I think that’s what sets us apart.”
One customer that King mentions specifically, though he doesn’t name names, was late receiving her order due to a trouble with delivery. King credits his staff with showing courtesy and saving what could have been an unfortunate outcome.
“She said she is now a lifelong customer,” King said. “I’d love a lot of those!”
Three months in, King and his children are in it for the long haul. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are successful eateries.
“I know Phillips’ (Drive-In) and Flonnie’s weren’t built in a day, and they weren’t built in a year,” King said, mentioning what some might consider his competitors by name and praising their longevity. “It took them a lifetime of hard work and dedication, building a product and giving a good service to the public. And that’s what we want to do: have good service, a good, quality product, and a fair price, and make sure everybody enjoys what they receive from Baby J’s.”
So far, King and his staff are still building their menu. Their Philly cheesesteak pizzas and subs are especially popular, and Caleb has a pizza he devised during the Domino’s days — the Uncle Caba, pronounced “Kayba,” which is what the younger grandchildren called him when they could not pronounce Caleb. There’s the Big Daddy Wayne pizza, which is built just the way King likes it — “which is everything but the kitchen sink,” he said. There’s Cheap & Cheesy Bread, which King said really is cheap, at $3.99. There’s Double-Stuff Cheese Bread (“it’s phenomenal,” Tara said). And Baby J’s has just begun to branch out to pastas, such as meatball marinara and alfredo. There’s also a growing sandwich menu, a gluten-free crust for customers with celiac disease, a low-carb pizza for diabetics and dieters, and an in-house barbecue sauce, which is proving so popular that King said it might be individually marketed soon.
“We try to accommodate as much as we can,” King said. “If our customers request it, we want to see if we can do it.”
King calls his pies the “best pizza this side of Italy,” and he said Baby J’s includes ingredients that are unique to the area.
“My take is that if you skimp on quality, you’ll never get the quantity,” he said.
For now, Baby J’s offers carry-out and delivery. But there’s always room for growth.
“I would not discount an opportunity to expand,” King said. “If you don’t have a vision to grow, you’re going to die before you ever get sprouted.”
At the end of the day, King — who is a Baptist pastor and former county mayor candidate, in addition to a long-time fixture on the local business scene as a director of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce — says it’s all about giving back to the community.
“My whole purpose of this is to be able to continue to give something back to my community,” he said, “because it’s been such a big support for me and my family.”
The preceding article is the May 2017 installment of "Business Spotlight," presented in the Independent Herald on the third week of each month by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce.