54 Pizza Express has been a staple in Owensboro for more than 33 years. Owner Cindy Tong attributed their success over the years to community support and a loyal base of hardworking employees.
The restaurant was one of the first in the area to root its business on the east side of Owensboro off KY 54. Tong said in 1988, the only other commercial properties on the now busy roadway were a Family Video, a dentist office, a dry cleaner, and a liquor store.
“I came up with the name because it described what we did,” Tong said. “We were delivering pizza 100% of the time at that point with a very small amount of carry-out orders, and we were located on Highway 54.”
54 Pizza Express has evolved since opening up shop all those years ago. The original menu offered pizza, three different sandwiches and soft drinks. They now offer 25 different sandwiches, 10 salads, breadsticks and wings.
“I started listening to customers, and we’d take their suggestions,” Tong said. “I like taking other peoples’ suggestions. My employees have made suggestions along the way, too.”
Tong did well enough along the way to open up a second store on Sterling Drive. According to her, it’s the support from the community that’s kept her business going for so many years.
“I’m dependent on the support I get every day,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the community support and them loving our product, we wouldn’t be here — period.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has put financial pressure on local restaurants everywhere, Tong said she was “very, very thankful we are one of the fortunate ones.”
“I’m deeply saddened about the ones that didn’t make it through,” she added. “We all need to support them.”
Being part of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce had been another “invaluable” component of her business’s success, Tong said. The networking and support provided by the Chamber helped 54 Pizza Express build its foundation early on, but in recent months, the support and advice provided by the Chamber has been essential in keeping the doors open.
“They’ve done so much to help us through the pandemic, whether it’s telling us where to get sanitation liquids and personal protective equipment, or by giving us COVID updates on a regular basis,” Tong said.
Tong said she hopes to eventually turn ownership over to one of her current managers.
“I have some really wonderful people working for me,” she said. “I don’t have any children to hand the business down to, but I’ve got some wonderful employees who have been like family to me.”
By Katie Pickens, The Owensboro Times