So, we had a fire at our main Tulsa location. Something like that is scary, and it freaks you out and makes you wonder how close you came to losing it all. Of course, we have insurance, but not the level of insurance where you can burn down our main store and it doesn’t become a massive financial hit.
There were many lessons to learn from a less-than-ideal experience like this. The first lesson is good people consistently pay for themselves in droves. If we didn’t have a rock-solid manager and kitchen manager on site, being the adults in the room to have a fire extinguisher ready and the wherewithal to use it properly, the whole place would’ve burned down. So, we’re very thankful for that.
The next lesson is having a fire extinguisher in multiple stations on site. No matter how small of a shop you own, you should have at least three extinguishers ready and well maintained by a professional service.
The most important lesson I’ve learned from the many perfect storm days I’ve had in this business, days where seemingly everything falls apart simultaneously, is that no matter how crappy the hand you get dealt is, all that matters is how you play it.
We have become very good at handling perfect storm days. This fire occurred right before opening on a Saturday, which meant we weren’t open at all on Saturday … our most profitable day. But instead of being closed indefinitely, we were open 25 hours later.
Such a quick turnaround occurred by working through the night to clean, repair, and install all new HVAC after the fire department ripped out most of ours.
Staff who had the day off came in to help. Employees from other stores asked what they could do rather than waiting to be told. Former employees, customers and even former vendors who moved onto other jobs got in the mix to get us reopen in hours instead of weeks. Tulsa is not a small rural town, but you wouldn’t know it on days like this because people came out of the woodwork to help.
Next was handling the press. When the average customer hears the word fire associated with your business, they’ll assume you’re closed forever unless you get in front of the story. We had to get to the news immediately to inform them that a small fire had occurred, and we looked to be open by the next day. We weren’t sure we would be open by the next day, but we had to control the narrative that we would re-open asap.
Why did the press play ball? Because of a history of bringing them pizzas on election nights and always a free pizza when they do a story on site. Relationships matter, especially in a crisis. If you invest in others, someone might be around to help you when the chips are down. That’s not why you should invest in others, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
The issue of why we had a fire arose from an anomaly inside our oven. By garnering a solid relationship with the oven company over the years and ensuring that we have a great partnership, we could get a new oven fast-tracked to us super quick. That way we could replace the old one a few weeks later. That’s another one of the wins of nurturing those relationships at Pizza Expo, by the way.
The last lesson of any snafu is to use it. You’re damn right that we marketed our store surviving a fire and being thankful to be re-open. That story ran at the top of the hour on the news, got a nice Facebook push, and had money back in the pockets of our servers, our bar and all of us back to making pizza as it should be.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch