There are two racks full of miscellaneous groceries against a back wall in Joe’s Pizza in Center City, to the left of two clear-faced refrigerators holding bottled drinks. Not long ago, Joe’s operated only on the likes of pizza and hoagies made to order. “Now we have gelato from Italy, sorbets from Italy, all organic products from Sicily, oils, and cookies, and all things. We don’t just have pizza,” says Casimira Villico, who owns the restaurant with her husband Ernesto.
Joe’s Pizza has been turning out slice after slice at the corner of 16th and Sansom streets since well before Ernesto acquired the space 30 years ago. It’s always been a place to get a traditional slice of pizza, but Philadelphia’s recent growth has forced the Villicos to reimagine how they operate their shop. Pressed by more boutique and gourmet options in affluent Center City, they decided to expand their merchandise as a way to stay relevant.
Selling competitive products isn’t the only obstacle for small businesses today; so is the tumultuous task of transitioning to a world that’s digital first, where word of mouth spreads through text messages and social media blasts. Often operating on tight budgets and supported by family, it’s businesses like Joe’s Pizza that find it hard to adapt.
“Small businesses are what run the economy,” Frederick says. “They’re the ones who don’t understand digital marketing, but they’re the ones who need it the most.”
In late March, the shop received help for free from Momentum Digital, an agency that aids small businesses in performing better digitally, whether that be through smarter web design, social media use, or search engine optimization. Over a year ago, Momentum introduced an initiative called “Small Business Saturday,” with the goal of identifying and helping a different small business in Philadelphia each week.
“I wanted a way to connect and give back to the local community and small businesses while also having a platform to educate the community on digital marketing,” says Momentum founder and CEO Mac Frederick. For Joe’s Pizza, the agency put together a video that touches on the shop’s history and day-to-day routine. They also helped educate the Villicos about how to best use digital media to strengthen their business.
Since beginning, Momentum has helped over 65 businesses through Small Business Saturday, including the restaurant Tattooed Mom on South Street, Stripp’d Juice in Old City, and Passero’s Coffee Roasters in Center City. The Small Business Saturday routine is the same for each business—at least a week before a given Saturday, Momentum heads out to its business of the week with a crew of videographers, photographers, and other staff. It then produces a video and blog post that share the company’s story and information. Momentum also promotes the given business through its various social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
The aid goes both ways, though: By helping businesses in Philadelphia, Momentum Digital, itself a local small business, gains a network of connections that know its quality and worth—and, hopefully, that spread the word to paying clients who can help Frederick grow his own business.
Frederick brought Momentum into being after a stint at Google as a Small Business Account Strategist, where he helped small businesses expand online while being affiliated with the internet giant. He had thought the Google gig would be his dream job forever. But leaving his position in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and moving to Philadelphia was “the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. With more time to focus on small, vulnerable companies, he can now provide value to those who need it most in the small business community.
By helping businesses in Philadelphia, Momentum Digital, itself a local small business, gains a network of connections that know its quality and worth—and, hopefully, that spread the word to paying clients who can help Frederick grow his own business.
While working at Google, Frederick was exposed to the struggles that small businesses encounter when competing in a digital-first market, and gained an appreciation for the worth of those businesses. “Small businesses are what run the economy,” he says. “They’re the ones who don’t understand digital marketing, but they’re the ones who need it the most. They can’t afford a digital marketing agency, you know, they can’t afford to spend a thousand dollars or more with you.”
Momentum Digital, then, provides “a couple thousand dollars of value in hope to spread the message, spread awareness, and help their business.” The team at Momentum Digital learns about the small businesses it helps mostly through word of mouth—case in point for why they need help with their digital marketing. For instance, Frederick was introduced to Cristina Espaillat, the founder of Northern Liberties fitness studio Sculpere, the focus of Small Business Saturday last week, at a Christmas party last year.
Villico praises the exposure her new marketing tools have brought for Joe’s Pizza. Being able to consistently put out digital content “shows people that we are a real family-run business, and we’re here working, and we’re still in touch with the community and people that come in here day after day, year after year.”
After Momentum helped Joe’s Pizza in March, Villico notes that she stepped up her social media in order to be noticed. To make the point, she pauses to photograph a pile of pizza boxes on a nearby table, to post online. “I’m the older generation,” she says, meditating on the way she interacts with social media. “And all these younger people—that’s what they know.”Photo via Momentum Digital