No baloney: Justin Pugh puts his money where his mouth is

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- His name is Justin Pugh and he's a carboholic.

That should come as no surprise to anyone who takes a look at the Arizona Cardinals left guard. He's 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds. He looks like someone who likes pizza ... and breadsticks ... and sandwiches.

Last year, Pugh took his love for carbs one step further. He put his money where his mouth is.

Pugh became an investor in the fast-casual, creative pizza spot in New Jersey called Tony Boloney's in 2018, owning 5% of the restaurant's holding company as well as a piece of two of the four brick-and-mortar stores around the state.

Pugh, who spent the first five years of his career with the New York Giants, used to live in Hoboken, New Jersey, right over the Hudson River from Manhattan. Soon after he was drafted and moved to Hoboken, he discovered Tony Boloney's, a Jersey-born spot that specializes in unique pizzas, such as the Winger that features buttermilk buffalo fried chicken or cauliflower, fresh mozzarella, blue cheese and ranch dressing, or the Jewish Cowboy with "passover BBQ brisket, havarti, beet horseradish and parsley."

"If you look at a menu, it's pretty out there," Pugh said. "It's pretty cool."

Pugh, who grew up about an hour outside Philadelphia, ate specialty pizzas as a kid, so the space wasn't foreign to him. And even though he loved the product when he was first approached about investing through a close friend, Benny Silman -- who's also part of the holding company -- he declined.

Pugh, who was a finance major at Syracuse, didn't want to be one of those investors who just cuts a check. And he didn't just want to be part of one store. He wanted to have a stake in as many stores as he could and the holding company. A month or two later, he reconsidered.

"That's what we did," Pugh said. "Try to make money multiple ways. So, you make it through the holding company, you make it through the individual stores themselves that you are part of and then you make it through management fees. The more ways you can generate income, the better."

Pugh was looking to diversify his portfolio and Tony Boloney's was his first investment outside of traditional bonds, he said. He's staying out of the real estate market for now, until he feels better educated.

Even though Pugh understands that the food industry comes with high risk, he felt Tony Boloney's was the right fit for him.

"I love the product," he said. "So, I think anytime you can get behind product [and] you actually love it, it's a no-brainer. Looking at the numbers, they were doing some really good things, but obviously there's a risk involved."

Even though he's more of a passive investor, Pugh still likes to stay involved as much as he can, even during football season. He still asks Silman for profit and loss reports. He still has his friends and family stop by Tony Boloney's and report back to him. And when he's in New Jersey, as he'll be this weekend when the Cardinals face the Giants (1 p.m. ET, Fox), he'll swing by the Jersey City location and go undercover.

He knows most, if not all, of the employees don't know who he is or that he's an investor in the company, so that allows him to evaluate the typical customer experience. He wants Tony Boloney's to be known for customer service and great food.

"The biggest thing for me is service, like when you go and you want to make sure you have a pleasurable experience, even if it's like fast casual is kind of what we fall under," Pugh said. "You want to make sure you have a pleasant experience. You go in, you get exactly what you order.

"I definitely let my voice be heard because this is the first real investment I made in my entire NFL career, so I want to make sure it works out."