January 18, 2022
Benny’s, beloved by college students for huge pizzas, opens in Virginia Beach Town Center
Benny Cavalloni’s opened on Market Street in November. The surname, which means wave or breaker in Italian, is fitting for the restaurant situated 10 miles from the Oceanfront.
The restaurant is an ideal addition to Town Center, said Chelsea Forrest, director of marketing for Armada Hoffler Properties, developer of the mixed-use development.
“It fills a void for a hassle-free, quick-service eatery so our patrons can enjoy a delicious large slice during their visit,” she said.
Forrest noted it was even more enticing to have Benny’s expand there since one of the founders, Chris Brown, is a Virginia Beach native.
Founded in Blacksburg in 2011 by fellow Virginia Tech alumni Brown and Zach Toth, Benny’s has grown to 23 locations including Benny Damato’s in Norfolk and Benny’s on the Ocean, located within Ocean 27 along the Boardwalk.
Three more are under construction: Benny Cantiere’s in downtown Newport News, Benny Capolago’s in Manassas and Benny Ferrovia’s in the south end of Charlotte, North Carolina.
“The goal for Benny’s was to be a local pizza spot and not a cookie-cutter chain like the rest of them,” Brown said.
While the pizza is the same from store to store, town to town and state to state, each location’s décor reflects its whereabouts. Menu boards, seating, logos and music differ from one Benny’s to the next.
The new Virginia Beach spot features a beach-themed interior with wood planked walls. Lolly’s ice cream and beer are sold on-site.
In 2023, Brown said they hope to add Chesapeake and Suffolk to the Benny’s family.
“I have this idea of having one store in all seven cities,” he said.
Benny’s has made its way as far west as Casper, Wyoming, and even Toth’s small hometown of Waynesboro has its own Benny Stivale’s. Donning the first name of Benny, each new restaurant is carefully given a surname that reflects the community it’s in.
Brown wouldn’t elaborate on who Benny is — or even if he’s real or fictitious — but he did say that the idea developed when he was in graduate school at Fordham University in New York City.
That’s when Brown, in an entrepreneurship class, wrote a business plan for Benny’s. Toth, working in management consulting in Washington, D.C., was looking to change career paths and jumped at the idea.
Cognizant of the jumbo pizza slices in D.C. and pizza parlors on New York City street corners, the friends turned business partners decided to give Benny’s a whirl in their college town.
“We built it over the summer, opened right before football season and it instantly did really well,” Brown said.
The business model focuses on bringing pizza joints to smaller downtowns.
“We try to stay ingrained in the community even as we’re growing,” Toth said. “We want to provide an environment where everybody is welcome.”
With simple operations centered on a single high-quality product and a tight design, Brown said it is easy to replicate the brand.
“It’s been a steady 10 years of opening about three stores every year,” Brown said.
Benny’s has roughly 275 employees companywide including Brown’s mother, Kitty, who handles payroll and his brother, Bryan, who is a partner for Benny Pennello’s in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The partners just started to franchise Benny’s last year but want to maintain the regional chain’s character and novelty.
“I love opening a new store, having people come in, taking pictures, kids holding the pizza up and families laughing about it,” Toth said. “That’s the most fun part about it.”