JJ’s Woodfire Pizza thriving after first year of business


Joshua Boley, The Chart

Senior Taylor Kalbfleisch tops pepperoni pizza before loading it into their woodfire oven.

Statistics say that most new businesses fail in the first year.

JJ’s Pizza in Webb City just passed its year mark is and going strong.

“You really have no idea of the amount of work that has to be done behind the scenes in order to run a successful restaurant,” JJ Spurlin, owner of JJ’s Pizza and associate professor of criminal justice at Missouri Southern said.

“As irrational as it sounds, I only wanted to do this for a year.  That is the agreement I made with the kids who undertook this journey with me.”

For Spurlin, opening the restaurant wasn’t just about fulfilling a life goal, it was also about the helping students. According to Spurlin, the endeavor wasn’t intended to be a money-maker. “I teach Asset Protection as one of my preps. It is my belief you have much more credence as a professor who has truly done what it is you are instructing,” he said.

Not only does Spurlin “walk the walk” he also gives back to the students and the community that surrounds him. The majority of his employees are Missouri Southern students, and they come from all areas on campus. In the beginning, most of his employees were students majoring in criminal justice. Now he says the “non-CJ personnel” outweighs the number of CJ students.

Tyler Kalbfleisch, a student employee at JJ’s, says it is the best job he has ever had and enjoys the atmosphere that he has helped establish.

“[We created this place} from the floors up, you know, we got this place started, cleaned up and painting the walls of this place,” Kalbfeisch said. “It’s the kind of restaurant people want to go to, I think.”

The pizzeria isn’t afraid to experiment. In fact, a number of the famous pizza combinations were invented by the students.

“We have been blessed in the personnel we have carefully chosen. We were not looking for robots in our business venture,” Spurlin said. These [students] are able to problem solve, they are able to fix broken equipment and most importantly they are creative thinkers.”

It isn’t difficult to see the relationship between JJ’s and the community. From the pictures to school gear hanging on the wall, each decoration displays a bond with the surrounding community. Spurlin says even though it’s his place, it has “very little” to do with him.

“In my view, what is most memorable is what we have done for the community. Every bit of profit I’ve made this year has been deposited back into the community. We raised huge money to help St. Baldricks, M.D.A. … We have given money to Webb City Little League, Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, Joplin girls’ softball,” he said.

They have also partnered with Kalpha Alpha and Fellowship of Christian Athletes to conduct joint fundraisers.

Among his accomplishments, Spurlin can add being an active member of Joplin’s Chamber Commerce to the list. Being an active member opens one up to people, he says, and helps provide a better insight to the significance of commerce in a community.

Spurlin credits the successful experience to his parents. While he is teaching classes during the day, Spurlin’s parents are in charge of the restaurant.

“This whole journey wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t have them and I wouldn’t do it without them,” he said.

Luckily, this journey doesn’t have to end right now.

After much collaborating, a decision has been made to keep JJ’s open for a little longer.

“You have to realize they are college kids who have a great deal of expenses. But most importantly they are kids, good kids, good kids who have made a lot of money and depend on this place,” Spurlin said. “ But then again, I could close it tomorrow and walk away having lived a dream.”

MOSO Mondays are a part of the JJ’s culture with a 10 percent discount offered to anyone with a Missouri Southern ID.

 “Southern’s been very good to me, it would be foolish not to pay it back,” he said.

While he says “it’s been a fantastic year,” Spurlin also warns students to do research before pursing their entrepreneurial dreams.

“I would encourage them to start very small and grow from there,” he said. “I’ve spoken with so many business people that said they started much too large and weren’t successful as a result. It probably goes without saying, but do something you enjoy,” he said.

Well a year later, JJ’s seems to be doing things right, so the community can enjoy its pizza a little longer.

When asked if he’d do this all over again, his answer was simple.