Rachel Cope, CEO of 84 Hospitality Group
Not even 10 years ago, Rachel Cope was sitting in an Austin pizza place, and she decided she wanted to open up one of her own.
Just one catch: She didn’t know how to make pizza.
But she did have a location. She had just won a contest from a Plaza-located landlord to put a restaurant in what used to be a laundromat.
The rest she needed to figure out. So, she did what anyone else would naturally do: She Googled it. And she found Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza. Scraping enough money together with the help of her parents, she flew to San Francisco and learned all she could about pizza making.
“It wasn’t just, ‘Here’s how you put cheese on a pizza,” she said.
She came home a Certified Pizza Maker, still – and then — the only woman in Oklahoma to hold the certification. And then after a year of transforming an old laundromat into a pizza place, Empire Slice was born.
“We started it off around the kind of the idea that there was only two places to go get food late – Beverly’s Pancake House and Flip’s,” she said. “And I felt like I had been to other cities where you could eat dinner at like 10 if you wanted to. Here, we were forced to go to a bar or go eat fast food.”
That was 2013. Sales have tripled since then. And her concept restaurants for new, different kinds of restaurants more than tripled as well. Now, she’s managing around 330 employees scattered throughout the metro at the various restaurants.
She said COVID shook up the restaurant scene, as you’d expect, but it also brought new chefs to town looking for a change of pace or venue – and restaurants open inside of still shuttered in larger cities where they lived. She said we’ll see many new concept restaurants in years to come because of this influx of new talent.
“I probably hired every single one that came from all these places,” she said. “I’m still just picking their brains every day. Their experiences will be so awesome for people to see and know we can have more than just steak and potatoes here.”
Cope said her future will be filled with trying new concepts and flexing her knowledge and experience for her peers in the industry. And, she said, she wants to proceed with an eye on what’s best for the communities she impacts.
“One of the criteria I ask myself before we start a project is, ‘Does this benefit the community around us?” she said. “Does it help grow and impact the community around us? Does it provide a service to them?’ We have always tried to give back in a lot of different ways. My role is to get involved more with the city and the state as a whole. I want to share what I’ve been through because I wish someone had done that with me.”