Steel & Velcro
Steel sharpens steel. Being around the best makes you better. Knowing great people helps you become a part of their greatness. If you want to have a restaurant with no competition, I suggest you open a pizzeria in the middle of a desert. You’ll have absolutely no competition. You’ll also have no customers. Being a part of your restaurant scene locally as well as gleaning knowledge from industry colleagues allows you to avoid the nothingness and isolation of the owner who wants to go it alone. Nothing about business is done as a solo act, especially not a restaurant.
Any restaurant can become a debilitating and lonesome life for the entrepreneur that starts it. All your best intentions to help give people jobs and to be a part of a community can feel hollow when you’re closing out the cash drawer after midnight alone with only yourself to depend on. You feel like you’re the only one in the world who’s ever done this. You factually are not, not even at that moment are you the only one doing that.
There are lots of other pizzeria and restaurant owners across America doing the same thing. However, you don’t know them, and they can’t tell you, and you’re not mutually benefiting from each other’s experience. I’m not suggesting you’re solely missing out on a shoulder to cry on or on a friend to say. “You can do it.” You are, but you’re also missing out on that other person’s experiences and how they strived through it. You are missing out on their example and their proof that there are more prospective and approaches to your current plight than the ones you have created.
I am no genius. I’ve learned a lot of lessons by getting my ass handed to me and from seeing what other peers in my community or across America have done in the same instance. My superpower is being able to tell myself that I probably suck at something and, therefore, could stand to learn from someone else’s example. Seeking to learn proactively from others enhances those relationships to not only be positive outlets to lean on, but also extends them as opportunities for growth.
Knowing people across the world who do this helps me be better. From visiting J. B. Alberto’s in Chicago to watch an insane make line that does 300 deliveries a night without a third-party delivery service. Or being on the line at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and watching multiple ovens working in tandem from different stations all for a cohesive execution. Knowing other people in the industry, factually has made my pizzeria, Andolini’s, better.
That’s because steel sharpens steel and learning from colleagues makes you better. It’s helped me so much that I went out of my way in the last two years to engage with local entrepreneurs outside of the restaurant industry to see what helps them be successful. As much as steel sharpens steel, Velcro is worthless if it’s just the plastic hooks or only the fuzzy sides. Having the opposite of each other together makes Velcro become Velcro. Being surrounded by restaurant people is good, but it keeps your blinders on to our world. Knowing other entrepreneurs and business owners in your local community that has nothing to do with pizza is beneficial as well.
Entrepreneurial guilt and all the things that you have on your mind that you don’t want to dump on your staff because it would be inappropriate means you’ve got to dump it somewhere. For a lot of people, just dumping your problems on your spouse may not be how you want to spend your limited time with them.
Finding a network of like-minded entrepreneurs that you can rely on and that can depend on you, and having that resource is the key to not only being a better business person but also a better person in general. It’s not just networking where you give your card to some random character at the Chamber of Commerce. That’s not what I’m referencing. I’m talking about deep, meaningful relationships with those in your community that you can trust as well as they can trust you. I say that because this life is not an easy path.
One big key to being around other high-level Type-A personality entrepreneurs is not to be a jerk. Please don’t give your advice as a know it all, instead, give your experience on what you did wrong or how you handled something similar. The other person can gather what they want from it and be better without being told what to do by you or vice versa. We are all accustomed to telling employees precisely what to do so that we know it gets done. However, in terms of helping peers, for a more significant impact, I try to do the opposite.
Pizza Expo is like summer camp for me; I see my camp friends face to face, the people I have been texting and calling all year. I didn’t walk into these relationships day one, they’ve been curated over time, but they’ve made an indelible mark on me that allows me to gain clarity and maintain focus. I highly encourage you to attend and create relationships with the people in this industry, and Pizza Expo is a prime place to start.
To be your own boss means you sign up for an 80-hour-a-week career to avoid working a 40 hour a week job. The other people that get that can and should be your support system when everything goes to crap, which inevitably it will. Talking to others about the scary financial stuff and failures is cathartic, and only those people not directly impacted by your hardships are the ones who can help, maintain perspective, and not be adversely affected by your venting like an employee would be. The same goes for your wins; it’s hard to tell a staff member or friend about how great sales are without them becoming jealous or envious.
Having someone to share the wins and the failures that aren’t directly affected by either of them is the key to successful peer-to-peer relationships in the modern work landscape.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma.