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Juli Ghazi was a single mother who’d just been laid off from her job when she and her business partner, Jeff Spry, opened Pure Pizza in 2011, on the heels of the Great Recession. In the early years of Pure Pizza, Ghazi, now 48, did not receive a paycheck and relied on government assistance.
Over the years, though, she has grown the restaurant’s business, opening a second location in Plaza Midwood and becoming a household name in Charlotte. Earlier this year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit locally, she and a business partner launched a new venture, Khali Yoga Center, in NoDa.
(The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
What brought you to Charlotte?
I grew up in Atlanta. My parents moved here in the ’90s. In 1998 after college, I took a job in Atlanta that ultimately transferred me, kicking and screaming, to Charlotte.
What is your background in the restaurant industry?
Practically none. I did not come from a family of restaurateurs. And my only work experience was as a hostess at Chili’s when I was in high school.
What made you want to open Pure Pizza?
The looming recession about 11 years ago got me thinking about job security. I began working on the restaurant concept in late 2009, and in June 2011, I was laid off from my corporate job at an architectural firm. I had a clear choice to make: 1) Try to look for another job. I was a single mom and needed income. 2) Go all in and see if this pizza concept might actually work.
I chose the second and have never looked back.
When you made that choice to go all in with the pizza idea, how much did you invest? Was that your own savings that you went all in with?
I invested EVERYTHING. Savings, 401K, credit cards — all of it.
What were those first few years like?
In the beginning, we had three employees plus myself. We were making just enough money to pay the team, buy supplies, and cover our bills — but not enough to add me to payroll. I was on food stamps and other government assisted programs from 2011 to 2013, after which we were financially viable to add me onto payroll.
Pure Pizza has become a household name in Charlotte. What would you say is the secret ingredient to growing a restaurant business in a fast-growing city like Charlotte?
One of the things I love about pizza is it’s such a community food. All food is community. When local restaurants are active and involved in their neighborhood, it creates a deeper relationship with the community. We’ve also been fortunate in very low turnover among our team. So when you walk in the door, you keep seeing the same faces over the years, and that creates another level of neighborhood relationships. Basically, it all comes down to community.
What made you want to open Khali this year?
Khali was an idea that started between Lindsey Crisp and me in 2017. We were both feeling a drastic change in the culture of yoga over several years. The pendulum swung so far from community and inclusivity to privilege and exclusivity. I was having to “karma credit” assisting in the yoga classroom in exchange for a free yoga membership. The cost of memberships were skyrocketing into such financial privilege that it didn’t make sense.
I’m in the restaurant industry, and I can’t change my menu prices when the cost of goods are affected by weather and transportation costs. And yet yoga memberships, which are not affected by market variables, continue to increase year after year, pricing out many many (already marginalized) communities due to lack of financial access. It all felt wrong.
So how did the two of you channel those observations into this yoga concept?
Over about 2.5 years, we began deconstructing every aspect of yoga we could. What works about yoga today? What doesn’t work? What’s missing? It was a rough journey for us in many places of this discovery. And, it was exactly what we needed— personally we needed the deconstruction. What came out of this continual process is Khali Yoga Center.
How have both businesses fared during the pandemic?
We closed the Pure Pizza’s 7th Street Public Market location in mid-March with the first executive order. We have not opened there as of yet. The Pure Pizza on Central Avenue has been rocking steady with to-go and delivery during the pandemic. We have our patio open for to-go seating, but we have not opened inside the restaurant.
Khali Yoga Center immediately jumped onto the online platform toward the end of March and offered free yoga to everyone. We started live outdoor classes for 25 people on our patio at the studio in NoDa. It’s approximately 1,000 square feet, with a lovely tree canopy that keeps it shaded and much cooler. So we moved out of the online space and have stopped production of Zoom/live classes. On our website, there is a library with lots of free content ranging from 15 minute hip-openers to 60 minute deep stretches, Vinyasa, and meditation classes. All free for anyone who is not able to join an outdoor class.
Did you receive a PPP for either business?
We received PPP for both pizza locations; we did not receive one for the yoga studio.
If you could give one piece of advice to 22-year-old Juli what would it be?
From one of my teachers, Shirley: “Don’t give yourself away. Give people your good vibes, but don’t give them your energy. Let people think what they want about you; don’t expend the energy for the praise or the criticism. It will always take you from your path. Stay focused on knowing you and growing that woman — not the woman the world tells you to be.”
What is your No. 1 piece of financial advice?
Learn to create a non-attachment with money so it doesn’t own you.
This story has been updated to include the name of Juli’s Pure Pizza business partner, Jeff Spry.
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