In the warm months of summer, what better way to cool down after a stroll than with a cold beer and slice of fresh, home-made local pizza? Chattanooga native, Dorris Shober, recognized the need for a place to get a slice of pizza and some beer back in March 1996 when she opened her first Lupi’s Pizza restaurant. She was an early pioneer in the revitalization of downtown. So this year, one of Chattanooga’s oldest and most favored local pizza eateries is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
“It was always our dream to open up a restaurant,” says Dorris Shober, founder of Lupi’s Pizza. “We tried a ton of bad pizza in our own kitchen and through much trial and error we created from scratch our own recipes, dough and sauce.” In fact, she perfected a winning recipe for the Chattanooga area. The version she favors is pepperoni, red onion and basil, adding, “Always put the basil on top.”
When looking for a prime location, Shober was told that no one would come to downtown at night for a slice of pizza. At the time the only other restaurants downtown were
Big River, 212 Market and a small sandwich shop, so it was an enormous leap of faith that she took when settling on a place on Broad street, just a short walk from the riverfront. As Chattanooga changed, her business grew.
Today, when patrons walk through the door, they are engulfed in a magical place. The smell of fresh-baked dough, spicy meats and grilled vegetables fill the air. The eatery is decorated with dark purple walls, bright trim colors, fluffy white cloud-like lamps, handmade trees and string lights, local art and uniquely designed tables. Everything was designed and decorated by Shober, her husband and their friends.
She also adds that she couldn’t have done it without her sister, Anne, who helped take care of her two small children at the time. Being away from them was one of her biggest obstacles.
In 1999, after the downtown restaurant was established, a second location was opened in Hixson. “We knew we had a fantastic product that needed to be shared.” It took a few years for the new store to blossom because many people living out in that area were unfamiliar with Lupi’s Pizza. Shober says with positive word of mouth, a little bit of advertisement and donating throughout the community, Lupi’s has had great success in growing the Lupi’s brand.
In 2002, Shober became sole owner of Lupi’s. Over the years, she was able to open up three more locations—East Brainerd in 2006, Cleveland in 2010 and Ooltewah in 2013.
She has developed a successful business system of promoting from within. Every time a new location is opened, she takes managers from previous stores to manage the new ones, and promoting experienced employees to management positions. All managers began as pizza makers, or cashiers.
“It’s important to me that managers have a clear understanding of the way I want employees and customers treated. To me the experiences my employees have at work are as important as the experiences my customers have when eating at Lupi’s.” Shober is able to run all five stores with the help of Matt Douglass, who was general manager of the Hixson location. His 14-year career at Lupi’s Pizza prepared him to be the current manager of operations.
In 2004, Lupi’s Pizza began to operate as a farm-to-table restaurant, using as much local food as it could practically source, including 100% local ground beef and sausage year round. “Local food is really important to me. I would not serve my customers something I would not eat. In 2004, we started buying local beef, sausage and veggies from Sequatchie Cove Farm and still do. But five stores required too much, so we began using our own farm as well.” Shober and husband John own a farm on Signal Mountain, where Lupi’s employees are sometimes invited to help out with the gardening.
“Dorris has always held Lupi’s to a higher standard, and has purposefully sourced quality local ingredients at the expense of higher profits. That dedication to local, along with her active involvement in a wide variety of community events and causes, has created a respected business that is both socially responsible and culinarily delicious,” says Chattanooga Market Executive Director, Chris Thomas. “Lupi’s is an inspiration and role model for all of us.”
The Lupi’s menu boasts a wide variety of toppings including meats, cheeses, veggies and greens, as well as other items. Calzones, lasagna, salads and bruschetta are perennially popular. It also features a “Take and Bake,” where customers take home any prepared menu item and bake it at home. Apart from the food menu, Lupi’s also has an enormous beer and wine selection. The hours of all stores are the same, closed on Mondays, Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m..
Lupi’s Pizza continues to make appearances at local festivals and events, such as the Chattanooga Market. “We’ve been a vendor at the market since the first year. I’ve always had a love for local,” says Shober, who once used a U-haul truck and blocks of dry ice to keep the food cold. It was a start, but soon the state required them to have a real food truck. “It was the best decision for us. It has helped our business to branch out and to spread the word about our pizza.”
Lupi’s Pizza also caters weddings, corporate and private events.
“It has been a great opportunity for me and my family,” says Shober. “I have had the pleasure of building great relationships for the last 20 years with my employees, vendors, and others inside and outside the restaurant business.”