“Supporting those who support us” with Anthony Ijames of Bada Bing Pizzeria

FLINT, Michigan — “I love it when somebody tells me you can’t have success down here. I love it when somebody’s worried,” explains Bada Bing Pizzeria owner and head chef Anthony Ijames. The Flint native has taken the city by storm with his old-school method of making pizzas in brick ovens, flipping the dough in the air with flair and enthusiasm, giving pizza lovers across the state something to look forward to whenever they’re in the city.

But “nothing is black and white. [And] I’m a gambler,” he asserts with confidence inside The Torch in downtown Flint on a cold Michigan afternoon.

That gambler attitude has paid off in strides as Bada Bing’s went from an idea decades in the making to a soon-to-be household name. With little to no social media, TV, or print advertising, word-of-mouth has given Ijames, his family of three kids (one works for Bada Bing), employees, and business partners opportunities to buck the trends and traditions of creating and maintaining a successful business.

However, Bada Bing’s success stems from Ijames’ relatability and bold and daring personality. He has no qualms, stating with a big laugh, “I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but I think Italian pizza is inferior to American pizza. I’m putting that on the record.”

Flintside met with the business owner and pizza chef to discuss all things Bada Bing, the pizza business, and concerns about keeping Bada Bing in downtown Flint.

Pictured on Jan. 18, 2024, Ijames works diligently to ensure every Bada Bing handmade and crafted pizza is in top order. (Bryce Mata | Flintside.com)Flintside: When I think about the name Bada Bing, it gives me an Italian flair. What inspired all of this?

Anthony Ijames: “The Bada Bing is a culture. It’s named after a [business] in The Sopranos. Bryce was down there and was like, ‘Dude, this should be a reality show,’ just the way we talk and everything. People have told me you’re not just selling the pizza — you’re selling yourself. I am the pizza. I make every pie. I’m old school. It’s not a Domino’s oven. It’s brick oven pizzas [and] you gotta be on your s**t. They’ll burn quick if you’re not turning and putting them in different spots.”

Flintside: Was pizza always a passion you wanted to pursue?

A. Ijames: “I always wanted a bar or restaurant. My mom taught me how to cook when I was younger. I learned a lot about pasta and Italian food. My first job was 14-years-old at Marco’s Pizza. I spent ten years doing pizza and learned the business side from that. But I didn’t learn to make [Bada Bing] pizza from that. I did these backyard parties and cooked pizza on a grill. I learned from studying and my love for pizza. I buy a lot of stuff at Farmers' Market – a lot of meats, cheeses, vegetables. There’s a good community down here, and it’s bubbling. I think we’re on the verge of something special.”

Flintside: When did you recognize that Bada Bing was something special?

A. Ijames: “Back To The Bricks was the first time [these conversations happened] about doing wood fire pizzas all the time. I went and ordered a couple of new grills, and I started playing. We set a date for Friday the 13th in October, right on the street. The day comes, it’s raining, and they ripped the bricks up. I’m expecting it to be a complete flop. But no, people showed up. I sold 70-80 pizzas. We had never done it commercially. We had these little wood grills, Ooni’s, that fit one pizza. I started at 5 p.m. and went to 10 p.m.” 

"I have loyalty, but here’s the thing: I have a good product. Everybody comes every time because they want it," says Ijames on Bada Bing's pizza pictured on Jan. 18, 2024. (Bryce Mata | Flintside.com)Flintside: That speaks to the customer base and loyalty you have from the community. Where do you think this comes from?

A. Ijames: “I didn’t come here from Fenton or Flushing or wherever. I have loyalty, but here’s the thing: I have a good product. Everybody comes every time because they want it. They’re hype about it. They love it. Our biggest pizza is called the Little Italy – my creation. It’s meatballs with pepperoni, basil, and ricotta cheese. No one has that around here. I grind my own pork and veal. Everything is fresh seasonings. Tomorrow morning, I’m gonna get up at six and make the meatballs. I used spring water from New York. When we did the wood fire pop-up, I ordered wood from Naples. I don’t look over the details.”

Flintside: To make pizzas of this caliber takes love and dedication. Is this your way of repaying that loyalty?

A. Ijames: “I’ve been serving this town for years. I’m making the pies, but that’s an art that is hard to teach. I’m prepared to spin every pizza for the next two years till I get a day off if that’s what it takes. I got a buddy, and he’s talking, ‘Let’s do it in Detroit.’ Maybe, but we need to do it in [Flint] first because they’re showing love here. They’re walking around with [Bada Bing] T-shirts on. I can’t do it. I won’t do it.”

"At first, it was a business idea, but now it's a cultural idea. I want this as a legacy," explains Ijames as loyal customers, pictured on Jan. 18, 2024, support Bada Bing Pizzeria. (Bryce Mata | Flintside.com)Flintside: With success solely based on word-of-mouth and a phenomenal product, do you intend to expand?

A. Ijames: “Flint’s gotta be first, then maybe Detroit. I like Bay City, too. I’d like to split my time between Michigan, South Carolina, or Florida. I don’t want 50 locations. I’d like to have five nice restaurants known worldwide.” 

Flintside: Bada Bing has operated primarily in downtown Flint, and you don’t have a permanent space to call your own. Is this something you’re actively pursuing?

A. Ijames: “I’m dying to stay in Flint. I have to thank [those who] let me use their booth. I’m actively pursuing all avenues. The biggest thing is staying down here. I’ve always been a big jump right in [person]. I don’t want to miss an opportunity, so there’s a couple of places for sale that I’m looking into. I want the liquor license because I want a place where people can come drink and have entertainment. I want to be able to work with events that are downtown.”

Flintside: With the community showing up and showing love, what are words of encouragement you want to give?

A. Ijames: “I’m trying to do this for the city as much as myself. At first, it was a business idea, but now it's a cultural idea. I want this as a legacy. We can do big city things here. We don’t have to follow rules and [traditions]. This is the revitalization. We can do the same thing here. Let’s work together.”

For more information on Anthony Ijames and Bada Bing Pizzeria, find them on Facebook and Instagram.
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.