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Kate Curtis (center) from Clarion University’s Small Business Development Center with John and Debbie McAuley at the opening of Giovonni’s Pizza in Cownsville.

There were smiles all around as Giovonni’s Pizza, 1014 State Route 268, Cowansville held its ribbon cutting and grand opening. Owners John and Debbie McAuley surveyed the full house at their business thankful for the help received from the Clarion University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to achieve their goal.

“The SBDC consultant worked diligently with me on my business plan, and facilitated the lending process,” said John McAuley. “They went out of their way to help us. We wouldn’t be this far into our project, if it hadn’t been for the SBDC.”

Kate Curtis, business outreach consultant for Clarion University’s SBDC, presided over the ribbon cutting ceremony and presented the McAuley’s with a framed letter from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell commending their efforts.

“We are celebrating the work of John and Debbie today,” said Curtis. “Opening and growing a business is not easy.”

John McAuley is not new to being a small business owner. He also owns and operates a marina, campgrounds, and several rental properties. He initially opened Giovonni’s four years ago in Butler, taking the restaurant to a point that it needed to grow.

McAuley’s first experience with a pizza restaurant came when he worked for his uncle and aunt’s establishment in Alabama while growing up.

“I liked it,” he said about he experience. “In 2003, my brother, Jeff and I, bought a building in Butler and fixed it up to be a pizza restaurant. It was successful and we wanted to expand so we decided that Cowansville would be a good place to grow the business.”

With this in mind, McAuley bought an empty garage across the street from his present location. Again the building was remodeled to serve as a take-out pizza restaurant. The business continued to grow and he decided that there was a need for a sit-down restaurant.

That’s when the Clarion University SBDC became involved. Looking for loans so they could purchase a larger piece of property, the McAuley’s contacted the SBDC.

“Without Kate we wouldn’t be here today,” said Debbie McAuley. “She guided us in the right direction and gave us ideas. We have a special bond with her and made a new friend.”

John McAuley commended Curtis for helping with a business plan that he could take to potential lenders. “She really helped with the writing of the business plan,” he said. “We took it to Farmers and Merchant Bank and received more help from Liz Hazlett.”

Hazlett, vice president of business development for Farmers and Merchant Bank was also at the ceremony. “I want to thank the McAuleys, they are good customers and good friends,” she said.

With the paperwork and the loan in place the McAuleys found the property at 1014 Star Route 268 for sale. They purchased it and an adjoining piece of property during the summer of 2007 and finally had enough room to build the new Giovonni’s.

McAuley, a union carpenter for 27 years, went to work as soon as the doublewide occupying the property was removed. Doing most of the construction work himself he worked toward the dream he fulfilled with the grand opening.

In addition to the pizza, Giovonni’s will feature an ice cream parlor. When everything is functioning full-time, Giovonni’s will employ between eight and 15 people. They hope to expand the offering to a full breakfast before the end of the year.

“Giovonni’s has become the most lucrative of our ventures,” said McAuley. “We want to utilize it as much as we can.”

Also attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Armstrong County Commissioners Patricia Kirkpatrick and Richard Fink.

The Clarion University Small Business Development Center is partially funded under Cooperative Agreement No. 5-603001-20040-25 by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The support given by the U.S. Small Business Administration through such funding does not constitute an express or implied endorsement of any of the co-sponsor(s)’ or participants’ opinions, findings, conclusion, recommendations, products, or services.

All programs and services are provided on a non-discriminatory basis. Clarion University's SBDC provides free and confidential management assistance and counseling to both start-up and existing businesses. Counseling appointments at several convenient locations in northwestern Pennsylvania may be made by calling 814-393-2060 weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

8/20/2008 11:14 AM

Cowansville pizza shop opens with Clarion SBDC help