Brian Chilson
Nathan Tucker

When Iriana’s new owner Nathan Tucker began working at the downtown pizzeria a few months ago, he started out as a regular employee, shadowing founder John Iriana to learn everything he could about the business so he could continue the tradition Iriana started 36 years ago.

“It’s gonna be the same,” Tucker said. “Obviously, I haven’t been making Iriana’s pizza for 36 years like John, but he stood by my side and showed me every trick of the trade to replicate exactly what he does,” Tucker said.


During Tucker’s time as a rep with Golden Eagle Budweiser, where he worked for 17 years, he began to frequent the pizzeria. Tucker said he, John Iriana and his wife Shirley Iriana got along exceptionally well. One thing that stood out to him about the Irianas, he said, was their work ethic.

“John Iriana is one of the hardest working men I’ve ever met in my life,” Tucker said. “He stood behind that oven for 36 years, took pride in everything he did. I don’t know if people really realize how much heart and soul was put into this business,” Tucker said.


Iriana started making pizzas when he was 14 years old in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. He opened Iriana’s Pizza in the spring of 1987 after graduating from UALR.

“I have two daughters and a wife and we just all kick in, and it’s a thriving family business. We do it the old fashioned way,” he told Arkansas Business in 2012.


Tucker also started making pizzas at a young age. His first job was at CiCi’s. He also worked at Domino’s and Little Caesar’s and managed a Pizza Hut.

“I’ve always had a little part in my heart for it,” he said.

About three years ago, Tucker was talking to Shirley and told her that he’d be interested in taking over the business one day if they ever planned on retiring. Tucker said Shirley told him that she wanted to retire at 60, but John wanted to work for the rest of his life, Tucker said.

Tucker said it was around nine months ago when Shirley contacted him and asked if he was still interested.


“She said, ‘This year in May will be our 36th year, and I’ll be turning 60, and we’re ready to take the next step,'” Tucker said.

Tucker said it wasn’t easy leaving a job of 17 years to own his own restaurant, but family factored heavily into his decision.

The same day Shirley messaged about possibly taking over the business, Tucker got a text from his mother, who sent him a picture of his late father, David Tucker. The elder Tucker was a general manager for the Red Lobster division of Darden Restaurants. (Darden sold Red Lobster to Golden Gate Capital in 2014.)

“He was the first general manager at the youngest age for any Darden Restaurant,” Tucker said. “Basically, what he did is he went to Red Lobsters and built them up for a year and two, and then we’d move to the next one. And finally when we got to Arkansas, he fell in love and had the same 86 to 90 employees for almost 10 years.”

Tucker said his kids also factored into the decision.

“This is an asset for my children, something for them to look up to. They can actually come up and see me and interact with the customers and know this is a true family-friendly atmosphere, which is very hard to come by these days.

“My kids’ friends as they get in high school will get to work with us. That’s what my dad did. He hired all my friends and taught them the respectful, disciplined way to be an employee. So with John and Shirley and their dedication, my dad’s dedication and discipline, I just kind of wanted to continue the same legacy.”