After five years in operation, Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music appears to have lived up to its owners’ ambitious hopes.
The dual-purpose pizza and entertainment establishment opened its doors Aug. 3, 2012, in 2,400 square feet at 5601 N. High St. in Worthington.
Natalie’s was formed from a father-daughter partnership: Natalie and Charlie Jackson adapted her affection for New York-inspired, coal-fired pizza and his love of music into a business plan.
Five years later, Natalie Jackson still heads the operations side of the restaurant, with Charlie Jackson heading up its music. The venue has six nights of live music, large crowds and a new “speakeasy” in the basement.
Looking back, Charlie Jackson said, the duo’s ambition and solid planning laid the foundation for success.
“We put a lot of thought into our business plan – what we wanted to do and who we were targeting,” he said. “I’m happy to report that five years later, I feel like it’s worked out very well.
“We were hoping that our style of pizza would be appreciated and accepted. It was a little different for the Columbus market.”
The idea for a coal-fired pizza restaurant largely came from Natalie Jackson’s adoption of the style while living in New York City. Her father called the style “a little nontraditional,” but the response was “overwhelming” from early on, he said.
“Looking back, I think we had a good concept,” he said. “That’s been borne out by the numbers and the feedback that we get from people.”
The pizza wasn’t the only thing they had to sell to Worthington: Their “ambitious” plan also sought to make Natalie’s a central Ohio music destination.
Although at first they wanted music two or three nights a week, they quickly raised their expectations and were holding concerts every night but Mondays (when the restaurant is closed) for crowds increasing in size.
The success, Charlie Jackson said, largely has been because of a focus on the music itself, not distractions.
“We wanted the music experience to be very special and we wanted it to be a true concert setting and experience,” he said. “We didn’t just want it to be, ‘They have live music, but they have sports on the TV.’ We wanted them to sit down and be absorbed into the music. I felt pretty confident that there was an audience for that in Columbus.”
Worthington-based singer-songwriter Eric Gnezda has played at Natalie’s and worked with the venue on collaboration with his Songs at the Center program at the nearby McConnell Arts Center.
He said Charlie Jackson “understands that concept of a rising tide lifts all boats” and has helped transform the area’s music scene.
“What Charlie and Natalie have built as a listening room has singlehandedly moved the Columbus music scene ahead like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime,” he said. “They have been able to showcase music and get audiences to listen in a way that’s never really happened in Columbus before.
“As a result, other venues have opened up, other songwriting nights have opened and other listening rooms have evolved. But it all started with Natalie’s.”
Originally, Charlie Jackson said, he and Natalie were considering trendy neighborhoods in Columbus for their venue.
But thanks to a favorable price and a few other factors, they wound up in Worthington. The duo are pleased to call it the home of Natalie’s.
“Worthington has been very welcoming to us,” Charlie Jackson said. “The residents, the city officials, it’s just been a great community for us. While it may not have been what we were originally thinking – we were thinking downtown or the Short North or Clintonville, that sort of thing – it’s been a nice area and I couldn’t be happier with the acceptance and the welcoming attitude.”
After five years, he said, father and daughter still are working as a great team.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “While people will warn you about going into business with your close friends and family, you have to be very careful. But we’ve navigated that very well because we have our own areas we concentrate on. We give each other space when we need to.”
To celebrate five years, a week of special concerts started July 31. For details, go to nataliescoalfiredpizza.com.