Slice

Building a Pizzeria: Behind-the-Scenes

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Restaurants come and go. Will I stick around? [Photographs: Caleb Schiff]

So far I've been telling everyone about some of the major steps and objectives I've accomplished as I open a pizzeria: the local support and lenders, the menu, the oven, the layout, and glimpses of the construction. And now as a businessman, I have to consider how much detail I can and should reveal to all my followers. However, I'm not one that can hide my emotions, as those closest to me could tell you. Making long-term financial commitments to my lenders, committing my foreseeable future to making Pizzicletta successful, and understanding that Pizzicletta and Caleb will soon be an inseparable entity is a HUGE emotional undertaking. The closer these plans come to a reality, the more excited I am for them to be true. At the same time, I am constantly thinking of how I can improve my business model to ensure success.

And right now, it's 3 in the morning. I'm up because I had some brainstorming going on in my sleep and had to write it down. After jotting it down, I got to looking through my budget, did some ordering, and then some menu pricing. After that, I just couldn't get back to sleep, so I thought I'd do some writing.

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Are those floor sinks in the right place? I hope so, that concrete is now dry.

Where is the anxiety originating that has me up so early? There are a few culprits, I think. Here in Flagstaff, I constantly see restaurants open in north-of-the-tracks locations with sky-high rent and menus with no niche. Just more of the same, hidden behind a fresh coat of paint. They stick around for a few months, maybe a year. But not long after, they close and leave another space vacant until the next entrepreneur comes along. Statistics and other factors suggest I will share the same fate: most restaurants do fail in the first year; my past career as a climate scientist hardly prepares me for restaurant ownership; the pizza offerings in town seem endless; the current recession suggests people may not opt for the higher price-point pizza. As a former scientists, I can't ignore these facts. I'm not a spiritual person, so I don't simply believe success will come because I have good intentions. I cannot will my way to profit. It'll take smarts, the work ethic to push through the long days and nights, and the humility to adapt and operate towards profitability. I know all of this, but still, I sleep less.

Tomorrow is Sunday. For me, it's never been a day of rest. Yes, it's my day off from work, but those don't exist anymore. This is my new reality. I am willing to work as hard as I need to (will that do it?) to make this dream sustainable and profitable. In addition to preparing for a full schedule in the week ahead, my oven is arriving this week. As you might have guessed, I'm terribly excited about the oven's arrival. I've been tracking the boat since it left the Bay of Naples. I'll be sending some photos along, and hopefully some video of the installation, in the upcoming post.

Since the last post, I've been faced with countless decisions. The decision-making is another source of anxiety. I have the support of my community, the love of my family, and the advice of many successful restaurateurs in town, but I am still going-this-alone. I have no partners. I'm the sole owner. The sole decision-maker. The buck stops with me. So, when I choose the glassware, plates, lighting, chairs, stools, refrigeration, paint, sinks, and the placement of all these things, I wonder if I've made the right decision. Will I strike that balance of creating a functional space and one that is visually appealing and comfortable, or will people be turned off by the space's intimacy? I'm certainly trying not to second-guess myself, but I suppose that is inevitable.

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Flagstaff is an oasis for someone needing release. Come, enjoy our trails, and finish the day with pizza!

To relieve some of the stress, I get outside. I ride. I run. Everyday. Even after a slamming night at diablo burger when I return home well after midnight, I'm up early and out on the trails. Just like when I have my peel in hand, it's my zen moment. It clears my head and sets a foundation for my day. I'll continue to do so once Pizzicletta opens because I've found it helps me achieve success in other aspects of my life: school, work, and relationships.

Since this is a behind-the-scenes post, I also wanted to let all the Slice readers in on a little tid-bit that has so far gone unmentioned. I'll be opening Pizzicletta less than 100 ft from the most popular pizza spot in town, Fratelli Pizza. With a little practice, I could frisbee-throw a pizza from my door to theirs. They serve the typical American slice — a spongy dough loaded with a cooked-down tomato sauce, shredded cheese, and the topping of your choice. They've been voted "Best Pizza in Flagstaff" for nine years running. However, I'm determined that they will not get year ten. Don't get me wrong, I like Fratelli's. It satisfies that occasional craving I have for a greasy slice. Nonetheless, once someone walks into Pizzicletta, takes in the small and intimate space, and looks through my menu, they will instantly realize that we offer two different products. They just happen to share the same name: pizza.

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Fratelli's pizza is right across the street from me. Competition? I'll let you be the judge.

The "dueling pizzerias" is sort of the talk of the town, and I'm sure most folks think I'm crazy. Like a fox, I say. This is the wild west after all, and we are both located on the original Route 66, so maybe a pizza duel is in order? Just say the word and pass me my peel.

As I said above though, the buck stops with me. I'm running my business to be successful regardless of my neighbors. If I fail, I certainly won't be placing the blame on Fratelli's.

So when I'm out on my runs, clearing my head, I recall some advice Paulie Gee gave me: Keep your eyes on the prize. Thanks, Paulie. Its been my mantra these last few months and the prize gets closer everyday.

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