Popular offerings include New York-style pizza, Selby wings
The MSR caught up with Tommie Daye, owner of Tommie’s Pizza, to see how the business has fared since our profile in 2018 when the shop had just opened. Located on Selby Ave. in St. Paul, the Black-owned pizza shop offers a variety of New York-style pizza and their signature “Selby” chicken wings.
The hard-working and optimistic Daye is originally from Racine, Wisconsin and came to Minnesota in 1984, right after high school, he said.
“My wife Dana inspired me to get it going,” Daye said. “I was the culinary director at a nursing home for a while. I would have to credit her with pushing me in that direction.” She also discovered the location for the pizzeria.
Although Daye enjoyed his culinary job, he shifted his focus to becoming an independent business owner. “We opened October 2018, started working on it a couple of months before, and we’ve been operating ever since,” he explained.
Daye has a wealth of experience and expertise in the restaurant business. “It’s hard work, working in different restaurants. I started out in 1988 at a place called T. Wright’s in Minnetonka—I actually was in a band at the time and that kind of didn’t work out,” he said. So, he decided to focus on restaurant management.
He elaborated, “I was having my first son and I had to get a job, and that’s kind of how I got into the restaurant business [in 1988].” The majority of his time had been spent in the restaurant industry.
Daye recalled, “So, when this opportunity came about with Tommie’s Pizza, I had already been doing that for 30 years, so I knew how to do management.” Due to his work experience, he chose to invest time in living his dream.
According to Daye, “Mentally, it took a lot of work—just had to overcome the naysayers and the fact that I didn’t have any other Black pizza places to influence me.” He experienced some resistance as a Black business owner, but he never gave up.
Finding necessary funding is a challenge for many Black-owned businesses. Daye explained, “Financially, I had to overcome the startup struggles where banks don’t really want to deal with startups.” Fortunately, he did receive support, especially from his family. He mentioned that he has seven wonderful kids.
“I’ve done a lot of the basic work myself to overcome that [lack of capital],” he said.
“Spiritually, I just kept the faith—believed in myself and what I could do, and just recognizing the blessings when they come, because I think it was a blessing just finding that place.” He feels everything was meant to be. “It all worked out.”
Daye shared the mission and purpose of the business: “We provide very high-quality products to the neighborhood, to our customers. We provide excellent customer service.” The owner is focused on consumer centricity to maximize productivity.
He added, “As far as the purpose, to just grow what we’re doing and to create something that I can leave behind, a legacy.” Daye aspires to open more stores in the future. Tommie’s Pizza will be opening for lunch soon and offering delivery.
Daye emphasized, “We make sure we do everything that we do very well. We have our specialty pizzas, our classic pizzas, our wings, our salads, a couple of desserts, snacks, drinks, that’s about it,” he said, adding, “The pizza is very good, everything is fresh. We’ve got hand-tossed crust.” The sauce is also made from scratch.
Although every item on the menu is in high demand, Daye shared the most popular products: “It would be between the Selby Wings and Tommie’s Special Pizza—those two items would probably be our top sellers.”
Running a business has its ups and downs. Daye explained the most rewarding aspect as “Being able to directly impact and reap the benefits of what I’m doing,” he said. He added, “Being able to employ my family—I feel really blessed to be in a position to have an operation to do that.”
There were challenges along the way. The pandemic negatively impacted business, but they remained focused and resilient. “To be honest, I don’t have much to complain about—I feel blessed,” he said.
Daye shared advice for budding entrepreneurs: “Believe in yourself and what you’re trying to do and don’t let other people tell you that you can’t do it.”
Tommie’s Pizza is located at 1556 Selby Avenue in St. Paul. For more information visit www.tommiespizza.com or call (651) 432-4743.
Ashley Lauren is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder.