At first glance, there does not seem to be much in common between the Opelika shop Side Track Coffee and Bizilia’s Cafe in downtown Auburn. One serves quick meals to hungry patrons, and the other provides coffee and a lounging area for customers to relax in.
However, there is at least one common bond linking the two establishments together: They were both founded by a Bizilia.
Kevan Bizilia started his career coaching at Opelika high school. His father, Wes Bizilia, was an assistant coach at Auburn University before becoming the head basketball coach at Troy State from 1973–1982.
“I just didn’t know anything else to do, I was an athlete,” Kevan Bizilia said, “liked coaching, the teaching part, it was OK, really liked the coaching part.”
Then in 1983, Kevan Bizilia ended his coaching career and started working as an assistant manager for a Burger King franchise in Columbus, Georgia.
“I looked up and saw the owner of this Burger King franchise, and I thought ‘OK I want to be like that one day,’” Kevan Bizilia said.
In 1986, Kevan Bizilia was promoted to a manager at the Burger King in Opelika.
“There’s different kinds of management styles, I ended up being the kind of hands-on kind of person,” Kevan Bizilia said, “I like making the food, serving the customers, just being involved in it.”
In 1990, Kevan Bizilia began working for Auburn University Dining, and started the Take Ten restaurant which has since closed. In 1999, he became manager of the two recently opened Chick-fil-As in Auburn.
Finally in 2003, Kevan Bizilia’s dream of opening his own restaurant came. Kevan Bizilia initially wanted to open a coffee shop with a drive-thru, but after purchasing the downtown location where Bizilia’s Cafe now stands, he changed his mind.
“When I got the location and was going to to do coffee, I realized, you know, really need to do food because I don’t think it’s going to make it just doing coffee,” Kevan Bizilia said, “Did a little bit of research, and kind of visited around some big city coffee shops, and they did paninis in some of these shops.”
Kevan Bizilia realized that this was the product he needed to make his new restaurant stand out.
“Nobody else in Auburn/Opelika did paninis so I said ‘That’s what I got to do,” Kevan Bizilia said, “I have an Italian background, and panini is an Italian word for sandwich.”
The downtown Bizilia’s became a successful business and in 2011 Kevan Bizilia sold it to run the Bizilia’s Cafe located at the East Alabama Medical Center.
“I was making profit but it wasn’t enough to just keep on, there was a lot of work,” Kevan Bizlila said, “So I said ‘I’ll sell that and just kind of do something with this hospital location which wasn’t really doing a lot but it’s increased probably five times what it was doing when I had the Auburn store.”
Kevan Bizilia is the father of seven children, and one son, David Bizilia, choose to also start his own business as well.
“I’m the only one who did not look at my dad and say ‘Nope, I’m not going to do that,’” David Bizilia said, “Everybody else decided to do normal things.”
David Bizilia said he helped some at the downtown Bizilia’s and worked at the hospital Bizilia’s during his high school years.
“I worked with him a little bit,” David Bizilia said, “I was always there to help him [cater] cause he would make hundreds and hundreds [of paninis].”
David Bizilia says that his interest in coffee began when he was hired to work at Overall Company coffee shop in Opelika.
After Overall Company moved locations, David Bizilia started working at the restaurant, Salud, which opened at the location where Overall Company had been.
“I was reintroduced to specialty coffee,” David Bizilia said, “Daily we worked hard on the coffee program.”
Salud closed within months of its opening and David Bizila began to search for a new job.
“About a month later, I got a call from John Marsh and Wade Preston saying ‘Hey do want to do a pop-up?” David Bizilia said, “[T]hat’s where Side Track began.”
Kevan Bizila said he is “tickled to death” and “proud” to see his son pursuing a similar career path.
“I didn’t expect [Side Track] to be where it is now,” David Bizilia said.
Side Track has since expanded to hold more customers and is unique in that it allows customers to pay what they choose for most products.
“He has a lot of insight, and sees thing a lot of other people don’t,” Kevan Bizilia said, “I’ve seen that from him from a young age.”
David Bizilia said that his dad gave him the inspiration he needed during tough times.
“When I would go home at my apartment at night and I would just fall down on my bed I’d just be in utter defeat, and be like ‘Wait a minute, I saw my dad do this countless times,’” David Bizilia said, “Now I realize why, cause my dad worked so hard and I respect my dad more than ever now just because I’ve experienced that, and I can empathize with him.”
Kevan Bizilia said that having his son work for him during his high school years did prepare him in one way.
“I guess what he gleaned from me probably more than anything was how hard the work was,” Kevan Bizilia said, “[I]f you're going to do this, you better be ready to work hard.”
“Make sure that everything matters,” David Bizilia said.