If anyone knows about the ins and outs of the food and beverage industry, it's Joseph "Jay" Sebes, the owner of Aviva Brick Oven. Jay started out as a server when he was in school. Afterward, he became a maitre d' at a former restaurant downtown called Lawrence's, right across the street from Heinz Hall.
"It was a restaurant that everybody attended before and after all of the shows," he says. "We also used to get a lot of customers from the Pittsburgh Hilton down at the Point; in fact, the sales director and the general manager of the hotel used to come into the restaurant for lunch all the time."
With this connection, a job at the Hilton soon followed.
"I was hired to open from the ground up what they call a PPR, a popular price restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was in the hotel, which is a 600-room property, so very busy."
Jay's time at the Hilton led to subsequent jobs within the company, working in the Drake Hotel in Chicago, The New York Hilton, running a high-end steakhouse, becoming the food and beverage manager and finally the catering manager. Jay acquired the skills and knowledge required to properly open and run a restaurant.
Therefore, when Jay acquired Aviva in 2011, he was able to slowly and gradually build his business and attract clientele.
"Over the years, we have gone from a little 40-seat BYOB restaurant when we opened, to full-service dine-in, take-out, delivery and catering venture," he says.
Wanting a business that would appeal to a wide variety, Jay says Aviva's concept is just freshly prepared, Italian-inspired comfort food suitable to all ages and price ranges.
"We attract a really nice clientele, so, in other words, if you come in on a Saturday at 5 p.m., we don't have enough high chairs because young families are dining here at that time," he says. "Then that crowd kind of changes around 7 p.m., as all of the millennials are coming in, eating, drinking and having a good time before going out on the town. Finally, at 8 p.m., you have a more mature crowd arriving and having a martini or drinking their wine and closing us up."
Aviva strives to offer some of the freshest quality and Italian-inspired meals around, which keeps customers coming back craving more.
"We make our own mozzarella cheese, dough, gnocchi, meatballs, you name it," he says. "So, when you come to Aviva, whether you're getting a cup of soup or you're eating gnocchi, you can rest assured that it was prepared fresh."
Jay lives by the same philosophy when it comes to the catering portion of Aviva.
"We do the same with catering," he says. "If you did an event with us, we would arrive on-site to set you up. So, while we are setting up your event, your meal is being prepared fresh. We're taking it out of the oven, bringing it to you, and it's just delicious."
Jay's success is on account of truly enjoying what he does.
"Some people open restaurants as a hobby and because they like the idea of restaurant ownership, but without a strong background in the industry, many don't understand the amount of work and effort that goes into building a business and then maintaining it," he says.
Another testament to his success can be attributed to his team.
"Our group is the best in the business. My key team has been alongside me from day one."
Jay's passion continues as he is opening a second Aviva Brick Oven this summer in Gibsonia.
"While it's a very competitive industry, you just have to stay at the forefront of everything and make sure that you do what you say you're going to do and provide unmatched customer services with quality products. Aviva, Amore, Mangia!"
Aviva Brick Oven
16099 Perry Highway, Warrendale