Turning a passion for Brooklyn into a moneymaking livelihood

Tony Muia is not just a diehard Brooklynite. He’s an entrepreneur who has turned his passion for the borough into a moneymaking venture.

Since launching A Slice of Brooklyn in 2005, Muia has created myriad thematic tours to showcase his multi-faceted birthplace. The company’s excursions include a focus on pizza, with slices at noteworthy pizzerias; neighborhoods, which features a meal at the iconic restaurant Junior’s; and Brooklyn’s rich chocolate history, with tastings at local chocolatiers.

As Christmas approaches, the firm rents 56-passenger buses that wend their way to the borough’s Dyker Heights section, where elaborate holiday decorations, including lights and moving mannequins festoon home after home as festive music fills the streets.

Along with providing an insider’s view of the borough, A Slice of Brooklyn provides patrons with round-trip transportation from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

“When I started, I wanted to create an easy way for visitors to hop on a bus in Manhattan and experience Brooklyn from a native’s perspective” said the Bensonhurst-born entrepreneur.

That Brooklyn has evolved into a must-see, happening place has helped fuel the business. Once a one-man operation, the business today employs four full-time workers, including two guides and a social media coordinator, as well as a part-time guide.

With prices ranging from $50 per person for the chocolate tour to $80 per person for the jaunt to pizzerias, the company’s gross revenues last year exceeded $750,000. Since 2007, the year in which NBC’s Today Show featured A Slice of Brooklyn in its morning broadcast, the business has logged in with annual increases of as much as 25 percent, Muia said.

The firm brings about 6500 people annually into Brooklyn, with individual customers, accounting for 50 percent of its business and the remainder comprised of corporate groups, private parties (to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other events), and tour operators. For these operators, A Slice of Brooklyn provides guides for their customer-filled buses and discounted tour prices.

Muia steers away from advertising in favor of social media and word-of-mouth recommendations to score customers. He also networks at trade gatherings, such as the American Bus Association convention and the U.S. Travel Association’s IPW (International Pow Wow). His attendance at such events led to a business relationship with Flight Centre, an Australian firm that lists A Slice of Brooklyn on its website and receives a commission for each booking it generates.

As Muia tells it, he was a burned-out respiratory therapist when he decided to channel his love affair with the borough into a livelihood.

“With the passion I had for the borough, its landmarks and the food, I thought maybe it could work,” said Muia, who had long served as an informal Brooklyn tour guide for friends and friends of friends visiting New York from out-of-town.

Newly divorced at the time, he invested his proceeds from the sale of a condo into getting his business off the ground, including developing a website, creating a brochure and renting a bus. He launched the company with the pizza tour, followed by the Christmas expedition, which enabled him to monetize the holiday season’s spirit.

But, in the early years, A Slice of Brooklyn was no piece of cake. His finances were rapidly depleting, courtesy of Manhattan – not Brooklyn – representing the star attraction for tourists. Plus, the economic downturn cut into overall tourism, forcing him to operate half-full buses. Muia returned to seeing patients with respiratory ailments, although he continued to operate A Slice of Brooklyn’s pizza and Christmas tours.

Fortuitously – and overnight, the Today Show broadcast reversed his fortunes, generating an onslaught of ticket sales that lasted until midnight. He returned to A Slice of Brooklyn full-time.

Today, with a full-time assistant freeing him from day-to-day administrative work, Muia can now spend time planning additional jaunts that not only take his firm to its next level but can help distinguish Slice of Brooklyn from a growing number of Brooklyn and Manhattan-based tour companies seeking to cash in on the borough’s uber-hipster reputation. On the horizon, Muia plans guided excursions to local craft breweries and spirit distilleries.

“My proudest achievement is bringing people into the borough and introducing it to them,” said the ever-passionate native son.

Cara S. Trager

Cara S. Trager is a freelance writer. Her byline has appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Crain's New York Business and Money Magazine. She also creates marketing materials, white papers and web content for a wide range of corporations and non-profits.