Local Veteran’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Creates Community

Although Cherokee County resident Andy Slanina spent seven years in the Army—having enlisted in 1984 and spending time in Korea, Germany, and Iraq—and then created a booming merchandising business and most recently opened a local pizzeria, he says parenting teenagers has been the most challenging and rewarding job by far.

With his wife, Meredith, Andy is guiding a college-aged daughter, Katie, and a high school senior son, William, through the tumultuous teen years while balancing his businesses.

Pivoting from Army to Business

Photo Courtesy of Andy Slanina

Thank you for your service! Andy Slanina served in the Army for seven years.

Once Andy made it stateside after Desert Storm, he went to work for then start-up The Home Depot, eventually becoming a buyer for the company’s Texas-based division. After spreading his wings within the merchandise service industry, Andy founded Pivotal Retail Group in 2010 to offer space, design, construction management, and overall project coordination to large-scale retailers. While Andy is proud of what Pivotal has built over the years, his focus has been providing opportunities for other veterans whenever possible.

Like it or not, Andy explains, the military doesn’t provide the relevant work experience corporations are often looking for, and veteran resumés are often disregarded. Andy himself didn’t graduate from college. He took various classes and online courses, but the growth of his business always took the front seat. While he’s been successful leveraging his talent and financial resources through his industry connections, Andy recognizes it’s not something all veterans can do, and many are turned down for small-business loans as well.

“Unfortunately the business community tends to recognize veterans only after they’ve passed,” Andy says. “I want to use Pivotal to do things differently.” Something else Andy’s doing differently is turning his lifelong passion for food into an impactful, community-based pizzeria business.

At Nina’s Pizza Kitchen in Canton’s Laurel Canyon Village, guests feel a sense of connection, while dining on delicious pizza pies and pepperoni roses in a fun atmosphere the Slanina family spirit has created.

Sharing to Make More

When Andy was a child, his grandmother, Marie Novak Slanina, always made two extra plates of dinner that Andy delivered to two nearby older neighbors. Andy once asked his grandmother, “Why do we have to share our food?” His wise grandmother replied, “We don’t have to; we want to.” The ethos of giving stuck with Andy, who now lives by the mantra “Share what you have, and you’ll always have enough.”

Andy jokes that Nina’s Pizza Kitchen may never see a profit because he can’t stop saying yes to community sponsorships. “We love giving back; we’re giving it all away,” he says with a chuckle.

Photo Credit: Daniel Hopson/DPH Photography; Photo Courtesy of Meredith Slanina

The Slanina family—Andy, William, Meredith, and Katie—celebrate Senior Night at Cherokee High School in November 2023. Nina’s Pizza Kitchen is a proud sponsor of the Cherokee Warriors Touchdown Club. (Photo Credit: DPH Photography)

He and his pizza kitchen business partners—wife, Meredith, as well as his brother and sister-in-law, John and Keri Slanina—launched a second Nina’s location in Kennesaw in summer 2023.

Photo Credit: Raymond Werner/Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

“The ability to provide for others brings me joy. I think of how much better the world would be if the goals of everyone were simply decency and kindness.” — Andy Slanina

Food Distribution Becomes Model Program

Crediting his faith in God and his grandmother, Andy’s passion for giving, heightened by lessons learned in the Army, also manifested in developing a food-giveaway program that others have since modeled many times. About ten years ago, through his membership in Liberty Hill Church and by partnering with Pam Beach, Action Ministries, and Publix Super Markets, the Love Thy Neighbor program began.

At the time it was the only no-strings-attached food-box giveaway program in the county. Volunteers regularly drove to Jonesboro Farmers Market and collected up to five thousand pounds of food to hand out. They held “boxing days” and started with distribution of only one hundred boxes. Soon other churches and groups came alongside Andy and the Love Thy Neighbor team to learn how to model the program and grow it in their organizations. Today free boxed-food distributions happen all around Cherokee.

Offering Opportunity

While you may find Andy at his remote Pivotal Retail location in Thrive Coworking at The Mill on Etowah or slinging dough at Nina’s Pizza Kitchen, you can be sure he’s always got one thing on his mind: making a difference for others. Because he’s had positive influences from many women in his life, from his grandmother to his wife, to a drill sergeant he was sure hated him but who only wanted to bring out his potential, Andy says he’s mindful to be the kind of person they’ve all been for him: a person who always jumps in and is ready to “do what they’ve got to do.”

Over the years Andy has focused on championing himself as someone who provides opportunities to others that they may not otherwise have. He’s made sure male and female employees are paid equally and receive promotional offers to partner when opportunities arise.

One local student Andy brought on, Chris Pruitt, has since grown into the position of director of sales and business development with Pivotal Retail Group. “I was a pre-med student at Kennesaw State University, preparing to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy,” Chris says. “Andy decided to dedicate some of his time mentoring me in business my junior year. That decision he made allowed me to learn and see the difficulties, risks, rewards, and ever-changing atmosphere of leading [and] owning a business. After completing my undergraduate degree, I knew my future career focus had changed. A lot of my current success [is because of] his mentorship.”

Most recently when Andy and Meredith remodeled their Waleska home, several electricians who worked on the project were in the area on asylum. After learning about their talents and the leadership positions they had held in their home countries, Andy partnered with them to launch an electrical contracting business that may see five million dollars in sales this year.

“The ability to provide for others brings me joy,” Andy says. “I think of how much better the world would be if the goals of everyone were simply decency and kindness.”

If Meredith and Andy Slanina look familiar, it may be because in February 2023 they were crowned Prom Queen and King for The Children’s Haven 1950s-themed charity prom. As the top fundraisers who brought in $10,000 of the $21,000 raised by the prom court, Meredith and Andy were honored as part of a night of festivities benefiting the Cherokee County nonprofit that works to promote the health and happiness of children impacted by abuse or neglect and provide supportive services for families at risk of foster-care involvement. The next Adult Prom celebrates the 1970s on Saturday, February 10, 2024.

 

 

 

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