Steve Petrone opened a franchise of Marco’s Pizza at the corner of Afton Drive and Maynardville Highway two and a half years ago, only to learn that major construction was on the horizon for the highway and nearby Norris Freeway.
But rather than lament the temporary loss of three of his entrances, congestion and changing traffic patterns, Petrone saw an opportunity to stay positive, grow his business and invest in a new community.
“Some owners and managers would find it as an excuse,” he said. “But people still live here and people have to eat.
“The good news is, there’s nothing we do that can’t be solved with a good attitude.”
Now in his 60s, Petrone has tried many careers, including dentistry, real estate, wholesale wine distribution and more. But every five years or so, he needed a change.
Not so with the pizza business. He loves it and shows no sign of stopping now.
So, when road construction loomed ahead, Petrone started with his staff. He invested time in hiring and training the right people, finding current manager Spencer Canady on his delivery staff and promoting him from within. Petrone and his staff focused on service and quality, making sure they were putting out “the best pizza in Halls.”
Petrone was already involved in the local community and schools when construction began, but that involvement has also helped keep pizza orders rolling in.
“People in this community like where they live and appreciate the area,” he said. “Another good asset is the schools. We’re active in every public elementary school out here, and in Halls Middle and Halls High School, too. People in this community are lucky to have the teaching and support and administration staff they do. They truly have people who are dedicated to what they do.”
He’s also involved with the local Boys and Girls Clubs. The first year Marco’s in Halls was open, he invited the Dry Gap Pike club to bring kids to Marco’s for a pizza party and to watch the parade.
“They had a ball,” he said. “And the next Monday they were back singing Christmas carols to say thank you.”
Ultimately, Petrone thinks the Halls road construction will be good for the community, but he still sees opportunity for local businesses to up the ante and give the 35,000 cars that drive through Halls daily a reason to stop for a while.
Some of that will start right at his front door, with plans for a greenway trailhead and parking along the old bridge and roadway alongside Marco’s on Maynardville Highway.
“It will be positive if local retail and other professional establishments seize the opportunity to make the community stronger,” he said. “My hope is that the community sees this as the opportunity that it is. We don’t have to be just a congestion point. We can be a destination.”
He sees a need for distinctive lighting, signage and a community gathering place to set Halls apart from the rest of the drive.
“People that travel this road, most of them are driving through here,” Petrone said. “Most of them never know when they got here or when they left here. We need a plan for the community. We need an identity, ‘We’ve left Fountain City, now we’re somewhere else.’”
Info: www.marcos.com or 865-377-4403