By Emma Lynch
Santoro’s Pizzeria, located at 1329 W Cass St., celebrated their one year in Tampa on Tuesday, Feb. 1.
Owned and operated by Travis Kaiser, Santoro’s is a New Jersey inspired pizzeria located just a few minutes away from The University of Tampa.
Kaiser grew up in Toms River, New Jersey where he first started in hospitality by scooping ice cream on Normandy Beach and serving pizza in Lakehurst.
He attended The University of Tampa and spent his summer and winter breaks continuing to serve pizza.
“My wife and I are UT alumni so it’s pretty special to be right down the street,” said Kaiser. “The amount of Northeasterners is hard to ignore. We’re a prideful bunch and when we like something that reminds us of home, we support it.”
After Kaiser graduated in 2007, he moved back to New Jersey where he had short-term careers in pharmaceutical sales and law enforcement.
When an opportunity arose, Kaiser followed his instincts and moved back to Tampa to work in the restaurant industry where he spent nine years working for Ciccio Restaurant Group and ultimately gained the title of managing partner.
“This experience is exactly what I needed to build my confidence to go out on my own,” said Kaiser. “Once my son was born, I made the decision to get a plan together.”
Kaiser always pictured himself as a restaurant owner. After the birth of his first son, he felt motivated to open Santoro’s and name it after him. Kaiser now plans on opening a second location and naming it after his second son, Ginacarlo.
“If the right spot opens up and the time is right, I’ll pull the trigger,” said Kaiser. I’m excited about the future and bringing more pizzerias to the Tampa Bay area.”
Kaiser had strong intentions with his location choice, and college students express their gratitude for the local, accessible, New-Jersey inspired pizzeria. Many UT students who came from New Jersey and New York have felt that the pizza is a remembrance of home and are grateful for its closeness to the university.
“I’m from New York, and although the pizza isn’t exactly the same, it’s one of the closest reminders of home I can get in Tampa,” said Kayla Santopietro, senior biology major. “ I love Santoro’s, and I’m so grateful to have it so close to school.”
Over the past year, Santoro’s has gained over 250k followers on TikTok where they continue to increase their brand awareness and interact with followers.
“Since working at santoros from last February to now, I can honestly say we have built a loving and supportive family of staff that genuinely loves the company,” said employee Amanda Wolff. “Since our following grew on Tiktok, we have all adjusted together to handle the stress of a busy job and the growth of the staff and managers is amazing.”
Santoro’s has kept business local by partnering with Edgly Marketing Group, which is run by UT alumni, Nick George.
“Branding and social media are very powerful tools. You need to be true to your brand on social media,” said Kaiser. “My goal in finding a social media manager was to find someone who would understand my brand and not be afraid to express it with class. Edgly Marketing Group fit that, and it’s been a great relationship.”
Santoro’s provides their employees with experience and opportunity both in the pizzeria and beyond. Employees like Wolff find that by working at Santoro’s they have been able to gain experience in a fast-paced environment and apply unique skills in helping the pizzeria grow its presence in Tampa.
“I was given the opportunity to grow in graphic design because Travis trusted me to design the menus and merch,” said Wolff. “Getting to work with Santoro’s and Travis to create design work was amazing, and being a counter girl has given me customer service experience I’ll always be grateful for.”
According to Kaiser, Santoro’s overall aim is to provide customers with great food that is also affordable, while “adding genuine hospitality, which makes it harder for people not to return.”
“Santoro’s really is a family environment and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. We all joke around, have fun, and care about each other while successfully getting the job done each day,” said Wolff.
“Hard work pays off. Anyone that knows me knows I come from humble means and the positive response we’ve gotten has been amazing. The validation has been fulfilling,” said Kaiser.
Photo Courtesy of Rachel Ali, Minaret staff photographer.