Itza Boutza Pizza to open EC store in former train station

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Itza Boutza Pizza owner Forest East poses Friday with son Aydan outside the pizzeria's new store in Elizabeth City — the former Elizabeth City train station off South Hughes Boulevard. East has owned and operated Itza Boutza Pizza in Camden County since 2013.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Italian food lovers who’ve been crossing the Pasquotank River for Itza Boutza Pizza’s pasta, subs, wings and stromboli, and, of course, pizza, will soon be able to enjoy the same food in Elizabeth City.

Itza Boutza Pizza owner Forest East says demand in Elizabeth City for his Camden business’s food has been so great, he’s decided to open a second location here. The new store will be in the former Elizabeth City train station in the 100 block of South Hughes Boulevard.

“I'm blessed, that's for sure,” East, 47, said last week.

East, who operates Itza Boutza Pizza at Camden Towne Center, said he decided to open a second store after talking with his landlord in Camden, William Owens. Owens and his business partner, H.P. Williams Jr., own the former train station, a one-story Mission Revival style structure built in 1914, and the former train car beside it. Since 1994, the train station has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to East, the former train station recently became vacant after the departure of its previous tenant, Bout Thyme Kitchen.

East said his goal is to have Itza Boutza Pizza’s Elizabeth City store open in the next six to eight weeks. The building’s exterior has been fixed up and he’s in the process of preparing the building’s interior for a pizzeria.

East hasn't settled on the store’s hours yet, but his plan is to appeal to lunchtime and supper customers. He said he'll probably start with a pickup and delivery service for the first few weeks, to make sure things go smoothly, before opening the dining area.

Itza Boutza Pizza currently employs 13 workers in Camden, East said. Once he gets the dining area open in Elizabeth City, he said the pizzeria will employ between 20 and 25 workers. He said a few of the employees at the Camden store will probably transfer to the Elizabeth City store.

East said he’d eventually like to set up a sports pub area in the Elizabeth City store, complete with TVs, where customers can watch football games on Sundays and Monday nights while they dine.

Prior to 2013, East didn't have any experience in the food service business. He instead was working for Lowe's Home Improvement. He said he worked for the company in Elizabeth City and other states for a total of 19-20 years.

Then one day about five years ago, East said he walked into Itza Boutza Pizza, which had been established in 2009 and was then located in the Camden Business Park off U.S. Highway 158 in Camden. While waiting to make a purchase, East noticed the business’s then owner had posted a sign announcing he was selling the business. 

“So, I decided to buy it,” East said.

East moved Itza Boutza Pizza to its current site at Camden Towne Center in November. He said he moved to Camden’s newest business park because the site, across from Camden County High School, is more centrally located.

Asked what’s been the key to his success at Itza Boutza Pizza, East said his employees.

“I was very fortunate that I had good people,” he said.

A key employee East inherited when he bought the business was a shift leader, Cicely Wyatt. East has since promoted Wyatt to manager. East said his plan is for Wyatt to take over operations at the Camden store and for him to run the Elizabeth City store.

East is well aware of the former train station’s track record as a business site. Four different restaurant operators have come and gone at the site since 2002.

East believes he’ll succeed where his predecessors didn’t because “we have a good reputation in Camden” and because his business is already established.

“It's not like a brand new business,” he said. “People know the name. People want to come.”

Itza Boutza Pizza also has a strong social media and online presence. It has nearly 2,100 likes on Facebook and a rating of four out of a possible five on the tripadvisor.com travel website.