Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Profiles
The purpose behind the pie

JP’s Pizza serves the community with support


It’s safe to say the first pizzas Wayne Rempel ever served to his
customers weren’t the most gourmet, but they were well received.

It’s safe to say the first pizzas Wayne Rempel ever served to his customers weren’t the most gourmet, but they were well received. In his first foray into the foodservice world, Rempel and his brother owned a part-time mobile food concession business in British Columbia. The business was hired for lots of outdoor events and concerts, and at one point, a venue requested it provide pizza. “It’s terrible,” he admits, “but we bought pre-made frozen pizzas.” Cooked in pizza ovens, the pizzas were a hit with their customers. “They weren’t fantastic, but I was surprised at how well we did.”

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JP’s menu features a variety of pizzas, wings, subs, side dishes and more, with customer favourites including a pizzeria sandwich. 


 

This experience merely ignited the passion Rempel has for pizza and people. He is now the owner of JP’s Pizza in Lacombe, Alta., and the winner of this year’s Pizza with Purpose Award sponsored by Saputo Foodservice, which was designed to recognize pizzerias that are making a difference in their communities. This pizza chef is a people person with a can-do attitude that immediately shined during our phone conversation. The purpose behind his efforts lies in the passion he has for the community he serves, and his involvement extends far past the walls of his restaurant.

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After the mobile food concessions business was sold in 1998, Rempel realized how much he enjoyed owning a business and interacting with people. “When I was working for myself, I realized the harder I worked, the more I benefited,” he says. He was in the market to start or purchase a business when a pizzeria in the community of Lacombe came up for sale. He wasn’t looking to buy a pizzeria specifically, but he knew it would be a good way to quench his thirst for working with people. “I just remembered how much people loved pizza,” he says. “I knew it was something people flocked to.”

In 1999, Rempel and his family (wife Carmell and daughters Tiffany and Rebecca) relocated from Chilliwack, B.C., to Lacombe to start their adventure. At the time, JP’s was called Just Pizza 2 for 1, and the restaurant served only pizza, subs and calzones. The 1,000-square-foot building was situated at the corner of two intersecting highways, which brought lots of traffic, but parking at the restaurant was very limited. When the first chain pizza restaurant opened in Lacombe in 2001, the restaurant took a hit, and Rempel knew change was necessary. “We realized we needed to expand our menu to capture more of our market share, and we started adding menu items that complemented the pizza but didn’t force us to redo the restaurant.”

More change was in store in March 2005, when the building’s lease was set to expire. Rempel found a new building only a kilometre away, with two-and-a-half times the space and ample parking. When the business moved to its current location in July 2005, Rempel decided rebranding was in order. Just Pizza became JP’s, more menu items were added and the restaurant evolved to a fast-casual concept with lots of seating.

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Wayne Rempel, winner of this year’s Pizza with Purpose award, pours his passion into the community he serves. Photos by Penny Moffitt


 

Of course, along with its successes, the restaurant has had its struggles, but community support was key in riding out the bumps in the road. “When you own a business in the community, it’s the people of the community that support you. If I didn’t have these customers, I wouldn’t have a business. It’s just right to support them back,” he says. “I’m not going to fool anyone and say I don’t do it to help my business. I would be crazy to think it wouldn’t help my business, and not to do it. The more that I can support people, the more they support me. The more I make, the more I can give.”

This mantra means his donation list is constantly growing, with thanks in part to his policy that no one walks away empty handed. “When I first took over the business we had a budget [for donations] and once it ran out, it was gone. [This strategy] makes total financial sense. But I’d still tend to give things away after the budget had run out and it would affect our bottom line,” he says. Now, rather than donating to a few large causes and several smaller ones, Rempel tries to give an equal amount to everyone who asks, even if it’s just a $10 gift certificate.

Bigger projects, like the Lacombe Skatepark and Lacombe Athletic Park have also benefited from Rempel’s kindness. The latter is a state-of-the-art outdoor facility used for community sports such as football, soccer, rugby, lacrosse and track and field. “Throughout the $4-million project so far, Wayne and JP’s Pizza has assisted us with several fundraisers, including providing us product, support and advertising at different events,” says Darren Gagnon, fundraising chair of the Lacombe Athletic Park Association. “He’s also been very much involved with the skateboard park that was built in Lacombe. At different events we’ve had, he’s always been there with JP’s to support us and pass on the word of our fundraising efforts.” These causes are especially close to Rempel’s heart. “I want Lacombe to be one of the best places to live,” he says. “These groups are helping other people . . . they’re the ones putting on minor sports for our youth to keep them out of trouble, or building a skatepark so the kids aren’t skating on the sidewalk.”

“A lot of his time and effort is put toward youth,” says Steve Christie, the mayor of Lacombe. “He has a true heart for the youth of our community, which he recognizes as the future of our community.”

Outside of JP’s, Rempel recognizes the importance of downtime spent with loved ones. He and his wife Carmell love boating, travelling, entertaining friends and spending time with their kids and grandkids. He appreciates different cuisine – especially a good surf and turf – when he’s out for dinner or on holidays, but his mind always shifts back to pizza. “Eventually, I have to try the pizza,” he says with a chuckle.

He also enjoys honing his public-speaking skills. “When I get out of the pizza business, I want to get into the speaking circuit and share what I do to help other business owners,” he says. He gets his practice in as a guest speaker at the Canadian University College, sharing entrepreneurial insights with business students For younger students, Rempel participates in a work experience program with the Lacombe Composite High School, giving students work experience in exchange for school credits. Many participating students are already his employees, and Rempel has welcomed back some who are looking for jobs after completing the program. “I get such satisfaction of seeing kids coming out of my business after being able to mentor them, and seeing them move on to be successful,” he says. “And a lot of the kids that have worked for me still live in Lacombe . . . it drives me to keep giving back.”

Wanting to make even more of a big-picture impact, Rempel became involved in politics. He’ll have completed two three-year terms as a city councillor in October 2013. In December, Rempel was recognized for his participation on council with a five-year service award. “His entrepreneurial spirit is very valuable to city council as well as the entire community,” Christie says. “Time away from his business that he’s giving to the community is be a huge thing; having to co-ordinate staff and schedules around his city business.

He has made a huge commitment to the city and it’s very much appreciated.”

But like the rest of his community involvement, his reason for joining council stems back to his love for the community and the people he serves. “It wasn’t that I was unhappy with how things were going, or that I thought I could do a better job. I just wanted to be part of the process of making the city of Lacombe the best place to raise my kids and grandkids.”

A year of giving
Take a look at some of the ways that JP’s Pizza has immersed itself in the community of Lacombe, Alta., over the past year:

  • Food, gift certificates, sponsorships and supplies were donated to groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, local schools, the Gord Bamford Foundation, the Lacombe Athletic Park and Lacombe Skatepark, the Kinsmen, the Rotary Lobster Fest, Youth for Christ, a Mexico missions trip, and local bowling leagues.
  • Rempel and his staff volunteer at community events and participate in local parades and sporting events.
  • Meals have been donated to families and community members in need.
  • JP’s delivered free pizza to the police and ambulance service during check stops.
  • Product was donated, as it is every year, to food banks, 4-H clubs, church youth groups, minor sports leagues, the chamber of commerce and more.


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