Eric Soller has always been in the restaurant business in one way or another.
He graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont in 1998 (that’s also where he met his wife, Stephanie), and went on to work in restaurants, hotels, catering companies, and as a food service consultant in Oregon, Michigan, Colorado, Vermont and Ohio.
In 2006, Soller accepted a marketing position with The Hobart Corporation in Troy, where he eventually worked his way up to director of marketing for Hobart Food Equipment Group.
But Soller had an itch to operate his own restaurant — and he scratched it: Soller and his wife Stephanie opened Old Scratch Pizza at 800 S. Patterson Blvd. in Dayton in October 2016. Business has been strong, strong enough for Soller to announce a second location is coming soon to 440 Miamisburg-Centerville Road just west of Centerville in Washington Twp.
Eric Soller is a busy man these days, with the build-out continuing at his south store, but we caught up with our Dayton.com Daytonian of the Week to find out more about him and his growing Dayton-area pizza presence.
What were the primary factors that prompted you to launch Old Scratch Pizza?
Basically, I had an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head. I loved Neapolitan-style pizza and thought others would too. But, primarily, I saw an opportunity for a different kind of restaurant. One that our family would want to visit on a Sunday afternoon. Stephanie and I always had a vision of super-premium ingredients in a cool, casual environment. I think people are looking for a place to enjoy the foods they love, without some of the formalities of full-service dining.
And what prompted you to decide to add a second location of Old Scratch?
We always said that if the first location was successful (and everyone in the family was still talking to one another!), we would look for another location. Also, we are ready as a team. We have an incredible group of managers, and kitchen and service teams that have grown with us and are ready for new challenges.
>> RELATED: Old Scratch Pizza to open 2nd location
The new Washington Township location happens to be right around the corner from where we used to live, so we are very familiar with the neighborhood. We listened to our customers and friends and studied some data that let us know that this particular location would be a good one. We are pretty excited about bringing OSP to a new neighborhood. The new location will feel familiar, but fresh at the same time.
What’s a typical workday for you now?
I typically work in the restaurant managing one day a week and on weekend evenings. I’m always working on the business though. These days it is mostly getting things ready for the new location. Fortunately, we have a great staff and management team that keeps things running smoothly.
Why did you decide to stay in and settle in the Dayton area?
My wife, Stephanie, and I were living in Vermont after we graduated from Restaurant Management school. We were both running catering departments — Stephanie for Norwich University, and I was at the New England Culinary Institute.
We wanted to move somewhere near family, and my parents lived here. I accepted a position locally and we made the move. We love Dayton because it is a great city to raise a family, and we have developed a fantastic community of friends.
What’s been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge?
Well, I think I am in the middle of it. Doubling our resources to move from one to two locations is a huge challenge. I push through by relying on Stephanie to work through our plans and make good decisions. Also, being able to lean on our staff and management team to keep Old Scratch delivering great customer experiences while we focus on the future.
What are your favorite places to eat and/or drink in the Dayton area, beyond, of course, Old Scratch Pizza?
When we go out, we eat a lot of ethnic food. Some of our regular stops are Taqueria Mixteca, Lihn’s Bistro, India Chaat Cafe and at the moment I am pretty obsessed with the “steamed cold noodles” at Kung Fu Noodle House. I eat them at least once a week. When we do have a night out, it is typically at Corner Kitchen, Roost Italian, or Dayton classics like The Pine Club, Oakwood Club or El Meson.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I don’t have many. Work is really my hobby. I guess I would say shoes and electronics. I have a lot of both. And travel — we love to travel.
What inspires you about Dayton?
I’m not originally from Dayton, but after living here 20 years, it feels like my home. Dayton inspires because it is so resourceful. People create businesses and art, and social programs in untapped areas of the city from very modest starting points. It seems like everyone I talk to is starting something. Also, for a city that has been through so many transitions over the years, I am inspired by how many people are, like I am, “Dayton Proud.”