Entrepreneurship, the Census Bureau reports, is stagnant.
According to the bureau, more than a decade of economic growth has failed to restore new business starts to pre-recession levels.
Locally, meanwhile, New Castle struggles to lure people and businesses to the downtown after 12 years of distressed city status. If a change to a home rule government is not approved, Act 47 coordinators say, the city will need a 35 percent hike in property taxes over a three-year period.
Not exactly encouraging thoughts for anyone thinking about starting a business.
But Austin Ayers wasn’t buying it.
“Our community needs us right now,” the 23-year-old restaurant owner said, “for us young people to step up and show them what we’ve got.”
Thus, 10 months ago, Ayers — a American Academy of Culinary Arts graduate and a five-star chef in the making — embraced his roots and opened opened La Mangia at 811 Moravia St.
“They always say to start local, because that’s where most of your support comes from, is your hometown,” Ayers observed.
His choice of location — a former deli belonging to local businessman and developer Angelo Medure — may not be in New Castle’s central business district, but it has found a customer base. It is located across Moravia Street from The Elllwood Group’s manufacturing facilities and can also claim the likes of the New Castle Industrial Railroad, Weitsman Recycling, Huston Group and Rocca’s Italian Foods as neighbors.
“If you look around us, we’re right in the middle of an industrial district,” Ayers said. “We have all these factories around us and they’re showing support by coming over here every day, having lunches.”
New Castle Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo counts himself as having been a La Mangia customer. He appreciates both the food and Ayers’ commitment.
“I’ve eaten there. I had breakfast,” the mayor said. “It was good. Very good.
“He (Ayers) could have gone to Sharon or Hermitage. I’m glad he came to New Castle. I wish him the best of luck and I would encourage anyone to establish a business in New Castle.”
Starting any business can mean some long hours, and Ayers has not been exempt. He is on site during operating hours, but also comes in overnight to do baking. Interviewed on a Wednesday afternoon, he already had logged 52 hours for the week.
He’s able to get some help from his mother, who keeps the books, and his grandmother, who along with his mother does the ordering.
But that’s not where the La Mangia family connection ends.
“Ever since I was real young, I’ve been cooking with my family,” Ayers said. “They inspired me to become what I am. Most of our menu items are inspired by my family and have different people’s names, like Yiv’s fried baloney sandwich (named for an aunt) and Aunt Carol’s Potato Pizza; that’s been in my family for many years, and it seems to be everybody’s favorite one. The DeDe meatball sub and dugout — that’s from my Aunt Delores. I know that they’re proud of me and everything that I do.
“Even our phone number — it’s my great-aunt Loretta’s phone number from when she was alive. We requested that number if it was available, and it just happened that it was.”
Ayers couldn’t be happier with La Mangia’s start. Still, he’s already got even bigger things in mind.
“We do have some plans to get a bigger (second) location,” he said. “It’s in the works, also in New Castle. I plan to do more the stuff that I was trained to do. This will stay the same here, but the other building will have more of the stuff that I do, like the different seafoods, the different steaks.
“I got trained to be a five-star chef. I still have to take tests to get my certification so right now I’m just a certified culinarian, but in a couple years I can take the test to get the license of being a five-star chef instead of a self-proclaimed one.”