When the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, married couple “Zito” and Christin Zito were trying to figure out next steps. Zito, who spent the past 20 years on the road most recently serving as production manager for Steve Aoki, and Christin, a celebrity hair and makeup stylist, weren’t sure what to do.
On Easter Sunday the couple was planning a cheat meal for their diet and Zito had a sourdough starter already made. While brainstorming what to make with it, they settled on sourdough cinnamon rolls. Having previously baked sourdough bread during Covid-19, the Zitos immediately knew there was something special about the sourdough cinnamon rolls. When Christin posted a photo on Instagram of their cheat meal, the outpouring of comments from people wanting a roll for themselves got them thinking. Soon, the couple began selling cinnamon rolls in their subdivision in Tennessee and the first weekend they sold 63 rolls, the following weekend 83 and by the third weekend they baked and sold over 120 sourdough cinnamon rolls.
“By the fourth week we had over 200 orders,” Zito tells me. “[I thought] ‘OK, I think we’re onto something here.’ So how can we scale it? How can we grow it? And how can we move it towards a business that can sustain us during this time?”
Logistically minded, his day job as a production manager for the past 21 years had Zito responsible for all aspects of a touring show including hiring the lighting and sound team, video crew and trucking. Zito then took these organizational skills into the kitchen. Zito’s logistics know-how combined with Christin’s expertise with a social media management company she launched during the pandemic had the pair merging their strengths to form Rock N Rollz Nashville.
“It was the perfect marriage. As [the company] grew, it told us what needed to happen for the business,” Christin says. “At the time we were just week by week, trying to figure it out.”
Since the end of May, the Zitos have made 14,300 rolls and now average orders of 1400 rolls a week. Every sourdough cinnamon roll is rolled by hand and hand frosted with salted vanilla buttercream, the very same frosting the couple made for themselves on Easter Sunday.
For every roll purchased, 50 cents goes to MusiCares, a non-profit that helps music industry professionals in times of need. The decision to give back to the music community was made early on in the formation of Rock N Rollz Nashville as the Zitos explain that it was important to help others who are struggling to find work as there is no timeline to when touring and live music will return.
“This weekend is going to be a milestone for us. We’re going to hit $10,000 dollars in donations,” Zito says. The couple also employees five music industry professionals currently out of work due to the pandemic to help with the business.
The Zitos hope to be transparent to others looking at them as inspiration for starting their own businesses. While Christin admits that there are days they feel like counterfeits as they’re not professional bakers by trade, husband Zito urges others to move forward with their business plans.
“We have just as many failures as we have successes and we share them with people,” Zito says. “At the end of the day, we know that we’re doing good for the community. It’s amazing for us to think we’re paying our bills from sourdough.”
Zito, who has traveled with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Ariana Grande, the Backstreet Boys and Blink-182, was out on tour with DJ Steve Aoki in March when Covid-19 hit the States. He worked a show Wednesday in Ohio, loaded the trucks and thought he’d be doing another concert that Friday in Chicago. By the end of the day Thursday, the entire tour was canceled and he was on a bus headed home not knowing it would be his last show for the year. Despite the hurdles of having his livelihood and identity stripped from him, Zito remains optimistic of his new venture and the future.
“To have that taken away that quickly, it was pretty crazy, but we’ve focused on moving forward, trying to look for the gifts in everything. The time we have — as hard as it is — there will never be another time in our lives that we have like this. We’ve been given the gift of time,” he reflects. “This will be a year that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives. And so we want to at least acknowledge that and that there’s good things to come through that.”
The Zitos say they’re not only trying to pivot into a new career, but to be independent as well. As the market changes, they’re constantly finding ways to reinvent their product as needed to evolve. They have since moved out of their own home kitchen into a commercial kitchen due to the demand for their cinnamon rolls. In the coming weeks, there will be special monthly flavors leading up to the holiday season. Every Wednesday at 5 p.m. CT, Rock N Rollz Nashville opens its pre-order where people can order for the upcoming weekend and then pick up the sourdough cinnamon rolls at four Nashville locations. For more information, visit Rock N Rollz’ website.
“A lot of people right now are without work or without ideas of what to do next, and that was us. We literally didn’t have this dream,” Christin says. “We want to make sure that people know that your next great idea is there, you just have to keep moving forward. We failed a lot and there were days where we wanted to completely give up. There were times where we burned all the cinnamon rolls, the dough got messed up, but even though we wanted to give up, we kept going. The best advice that we can give is to keep going, keep trying. Even if you feel like an imposter doing it, just do it and see what happens and everybody will rally behind you if you keep trying.”