December 21, 2018
Building a restaurant in an up-and-coming part of town is risky on multiple levels. Yet Mike Bausch, the founder of Andolini’s Pizzeria, continues to do it, opening up locations in areas that many would call “dead.” In our final episode of The F Word Season Two, listen as Mike explains the theory behind his expansion and how his life experiences (like a stint in the Marine Corps) prepared him for inevitable failures along the way.
Mike: Most people that will come to me and say, "Hey, I'm going to open a pizzeria," or "I'm going to open a restaurant of some sort," will say, "I'm really good at cooking a steak." Well, that's great. You should keep doing that and not own a restaurant.
Lauren: This week on The F Word.
Mike: That's what owning a restaurant is. It is not a glamorous thing.
Lauren: The founder of Andolini's Pizzeria, Mike Bausch.
Mike: Everything was just going absolute crap and trying to maintain keeping my head above water.
Lauren: Hello. Welcome to another episode of The F Word podcast. Today's guest is Mike Bausch, the co-founder and co-owner of Andolini's, arguably the best pizza in the state of Oklahoma, at least that's what we would say. Since starting in 2005, Mike and his brother Jim have grown incredibly quickly. They now have seven locations and one food truck, and they employ over 260 people. Mike has traveled all over Italy learning how to perfect his Italian dishes. He's won global pizza competitions and been named the best pizza in Tulsa pretty much every year since he's opened, but along the way, he's made some really expensive mistakes. He has held his breath through a lot of risks. He's navigated criticism. We're going to talk about some of that today. Mike, thanks for coming in.
Mike: Right on. Thank you for having me.
Lauren: I love how your story started, and I want to paint the picture a little bit.
Lauren: You grew up as a military kid living all over the country, graduated college from California. You're 22 years old, figuring out what you're going to do next. Your brother was living in Tulsa at the time. You call him up. You say, "Hey, I want to move to Tulsa. I want to start a restaurant with you." I think to outsiders, it seems a little random. Can you explain the why behind ... Why a restaurant? Why pizza? Why Tulsa?
Mike: Well, there wasn't a whole lot of why Tulsa at the time. It was very serendipitous. I'm graduating college, about to go to law school. I did the LSAT. I scored well. I'm accepted at Golden Gate University. I go to my first day of orientation, and I just had this overwhelming feeling of this isn't right. I didn't want to do another $100,000 of debt to be eventually getting someone their coffee because that's all you'll ever become in the California legal system. The original thought was my brother got transferred from Fort Lauderdale to Tulsa with Kathy Taylor and Bill Lobeck with Alamo Rent a Car. He was vice president at the time.
Lauren: Oh, cool.
Mike: He's here, and he says, "Hey, you got to check out ... There's all these people in line in this town called Owasso to go to a Chili's. We should maybe see about starting a business." I was working two different construction jobs and about to go to a law school that I did not want to go to. All my friends have kind of left college and moved on. I ain't going to a fun OSU college or to a college where you casually see people here and there, but it wasn't ... not lifelong friendship. I just felt very lost, and he said, "Come check this out." I came out, and within two weeks, I was like, "Yeah, we could do this." It felt like an opportunity, so went back, started researching. We, even though we were going to be a pizzeria, we thought ... What eventually became Fassler was one of our ideas, that German beer hall. We thought that was a little bit too avant-garde for Owasso at that time. We thought about doing a Italian market, which you would see on the coast set in Florida, but that required us getting a lot of very particular Italian food items, and stock is hard to just up and do. The easiest, most entry-level thing we could do was take over an ice cream shop in Owasso with just part of Jim's bonus and buy some equipment and start a pizzeria. At that point, I think my brother looked at it like, "Hey, this will be a fun thing to bring the family together." I just moved all my crap from California to Tulsa, and everyone that I would talk to in California would say, "Tacoma? Tucson?" No, no, Tulsa. I'm in Tulsa. I liked the underdog-ness of the city immediately, but the first year super sucked, and that was where I got my entry into.
Lauren: What made the first year suck?
Mike: The cavalcade of things that opening a restaurant that people don't really put into perspective, most people that will come to me and say, "Hey, I'm going to open a pizzeria," or "I'm going to open a restaurant of some sort," will say, "I'm really good at cooking a steak." Well, that's great. You should keep doing that and not own a restaurant because there's so much ... Do you know how to handle a payroll, cash flow, marketing? Marketing is a big part, and then having your identity. A lot of people will just say, "Well, I'm going to open a restaurant. Let me mimic this other place's identity and I'll do great." As time has told us over the years, you'd never want to be the second guy in the party in terms of being the Acapulco H.E.A.T. to someone else's Baywatch, or the American Eagle to someone else's Abercrombie, or the-
Lauren: That's brilliant.
Mike: ... or the Revolution to someone else's Walking Dead. You're just going to be that next thing, and you kind of have to find yourself. That was what the first three years were all about, to finding ourselves, finding what would resonate, which is like a comedian finding their voice, and then also having the wherewithal to understand HR, logistics, employee manuals, how to fire. At 22, I had nothing but time and energy because that's all-
Lauren: And grit, it sounds like.
Mike: And grit, a lot of grit. It was just, "Okay, do this restaurant thing," and I'll go to work during the day, and come check it out at night and figure it out. Figure it out mentality is a big part of the restaurant industry.
Lauren: You clearly have. You now have locations all over the metro, very successful. I think it's really interesting how you pick where to put your locations because you have a tendency of going into neighborhoods right before they become the cool place to be. You went to the Rose District as they were revitalizing. You went in the Blue Dome as it was expanding. You went to the Jenks Riverwalk when many people would be like, "The Riverwalk is dead. Why would you open a restaurant there?" How do you approach finding locations? How do you navigate that risk? I feel like, logically, you would not put a restaurant there. Why do you do that? How do you do that?
Mike: Each one is a little bit of a different story. It's interesting to me when I see a new outside of the state franchise pop open because they'll open on some street, like maybe in the middle of Lewis, and they'll say, "But the population density is so insane, and the median income at this part is so ... We're so close to people who have $150,000 incomes," and it's not just the way to do it. It's truly not the sensibility, especially for what we do with Andolini's to create. We were lucky in Owasso and cursed, but lucky that we built in a strip mall, which is the curse, so we can't really modify it too much. It's not a standalone brick and mortar. It's not in a walkable area, but we're right before Target and Best Buy got built. We became the most focal spot. Before we opened, there's a lot of other more focal spots in Owasso, and then that became Smith Farm Market. Then we took that, ran with it, ran with it, still finding our voice. Then in 2011, when we opened Cherry Street, Cherry Street was pretty dead.
Mike: It was kind of crappy. It was a lot of closures. We wanted to be on Brookside. That's a fun fact no one knows about. What's now Torchy's Tacos previously Hot Buns previously Wolfgang Puck previously to that, Delta Café, we put in, hey, we'd like to have this property. We'd like to do this as our second location. They looked at us and kind of laughed and said, "Well, then you need to get us renderings on what it would look like." When I had no money barely to pay myself, I didn't pay myself for three months for $5,000 of renderings. I got it built. I sent it to them, and they're like, "Look at this," and then they went with Wolfgang Puck.
Lauren: Oh, my gosh.
Mike: We found a landowner who really didn't genuinely care. Where we're currently at, the landowner, the true landowner, landlord lives in New York. It's a nice old family who used to live here, who owns a property, doesn't really care, rent was super cheap. They said, "Do whatever you want to it, but you just can't own it." We did what looks like a $2 million build for around $450,000 of just us grinding it out and building ... That building was built by my brother and me and our family. We straight up put the brick and did every single thing that we could to build it. We tried to do the HVAC ourselves. They said you can't do it, but we could do it. We know how to do it.
Lauren: We'll figure it out, YouTube.
Mike: After that, Broken Arrow. Broken Arrow came at us, and that's what the biggest difference is, is now, we realized it's a lot easier to dance with a dance partner who wants to dance with you than someone who doesn't. It's kind of like dating even. We were pursuing, being pursued makes us in a better position, but also makes us aware out the gate that we know we're wanted, which is a weird thing to say because people will ask us, "Why don't you just open in Dallas? Why don't you just open in Oklahoma City?" If we did that, we have to say, "Hey, we like this property." Well, we'll negotiate. I don't know. Well, our metrics show this worth $600,000. I'll sell it to you $1.5 mil. That happened to us around three times at Oklahoma City, and then we said, "Well, maybe this is just us being told not to do this Oklahoma City. Broken Arrow jumped at the bit, had the Ross Group involved, everyone was a team effort, which is hard when we're running ... we're still running restaurants. It's not like I leave the restaurant and build this out. We still run the restaurant. Broken Arrow, that worked out, and Jenks said, "Hey, you revitalized Cherry. You revitalized Broken Arrow. We'd really like you." We said no about 10 times, but they have a lot of energy and effort, and we saw how serious they are about what they're doing. When we see that, we like to jump in with people who are in it with us, and they were in it with us, so that's what led to that location.
Lauren: What do you think it is about Andolini's that revitalizes areas? That's really powerful.
Mike: I'll avoid the ego boost of that, but I think, initially, pizza is a communal item, which I ain't given enough credence for when I started this because, in Owasso, I was the family pizzeria. Our logo was a family-driven cookie logo. When we came to Cherry Street, I was throwing dough in the front, and I saw a very young, pretty couple walk in, dressed up. I was like, "Where are they going? Why are they here? Did something happen?" I realized after 10 minutes, and that's how naïve I was too, I was like, "They're here to eat here, but we're Andolini's," which wasn't what we were. We weren't the place you went on a date. We were the place that you went with your five, four-year-olds and just will be cozy and you can have a beer and chill out. Then we started to get dinged, oh, the trendy place. There's nothing trendy about Andolini's. It's brick and wood. It's as old school as it gets. There's nothing up and coming about it. It's just make it to look old. We built that, and people are ... Yeah, it's a communal experience, so people come. Then when noticed on Cherry Street, if it's walkable, that makes it a scene. If it's a scene, that makes it resonate with a positive experience. If it's a positive experience, then it leads to other positive experiences. That's what people want, just like my brother and I will go to New York, start at Central Park and just walk all the way until we hit The Battery, stopping at bars and restaurants, walking for 10 hours. That's kind of, on a smaller scale, what we wanted for Tulsa, that you sit close to someone else that you might engage in a conversation, that it's not soundproof walls, that it does feel like you're a part of something, that you're not doing what you've always done.
Lauren: Yeah. You've blown up really quickly. What are the consequences of growing at the pace that you've grown? Do you have any regrets and like, "We grew too fast. There's too many balls in the air," or "We should've grown faster."? What are the implications of the speed of growth you've experienced in the past few years?
Mike: Well, it went from no root growth for six years, and then three years ... We did a food truck at ... 2011, Cherry Street. 2012, a food truck, a whole year to do a food truck, good amount of time. 2015, we did Broken Arrow. Now, in my personal life, I just had the whole world fall in on me the whole week that we were opening up Cherry Street. My mom was dying. Everything was going absolute crap and trying to maintain keeping my head above water, but still was able to pull it off. Now, once I got done with that, it was like, "All right, what do you want to throw at me?" I've always had the what are you going to throw at me mentality, which is kind of a detriment. Me and my brother, both, not that we're bulletproof, but we don't think that we can't do stuff because we know how hard we both will work. Last night, for example, I was up until 2:30, up at 6:30, and that's not abnormal if I want to get stuff accomplished. I just make list and bang stuff up. Now, we've also very much know sleep deprivation because we've done training for that in the Marine Corps. My brother did four years in the Marines. I went to Officer Candidates School when I was 20 years old. Officer Candidates School is in Quantico, Virginia, and I was on my way to be an officer like my father who was lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. I'm in Quantico, Virginia. Right now, I weigh a fantastic 200 pounds, but back then, I started to weigh 160. Then I weighed 150. Then I got down to 135, not knowing I was losing weight at such a rapid weight because I had type 1 juvenile diabetes. That's Bret Michaels' diabetes, not B.B. King diabetes. I had juvenile type 1 diabetes, and I did all of the Marine Corps, all of the training, with no fat, originally, and then no muscle. I did all this training, and I couldn't feel my face. I started to become real sluggish. By the time I got out of the Marine Corps, three days after, I couldn't walk upstairs. I was just running 10 miles because I put my head to it, but then given the option of walking upstairs or not, I was like, "I was like, "I'm good. I'll sit here at the bottom of the steps." I absolutely had no energy, but still, I learned what you ... If you say this is happening, so that's what up, then you can get there.
Lauren: First off, to get back. I want to thank you for your service. That's not something we take for granted.
Mike: That's very nice. My service is just a summer in Quantico. My plan was to be a JAG lawyer. My brother and my father and my nephew's service is much more admirable than mine, but basically, I said, "I got type 1 diabetes." They said, "Oh, that's great. You can't come back anymore. You're done. That's a no go." I was like, "Oh, all right."
Lauren: It sounds like the Marines have given you ... They built your character to have the grit to do something big, and something that really has shaped Tulsa and served Tulsans really well.
Mike: I totally appreciate the ... The Marine Corps definitely did. It told me how far I could push certain things. I had a lot of other defining moments before in my life in high school and in college where I had pushed things to another level, but that was the Superbowl of pushing something and set me up for everything else after.
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Random question, where did the name Andolini's come from?
Mike: Sure thing. My Italian name is Carlucci. My mother's maiden name was Carlucci. Carlucci, when I was opening up Andolini's or looking to come up with a name, I saw a guy on Food Network named Joe Carlucci with Famous Joe's, and I said, "Okay, well, that's going to be a problem. I don't want to deal with getting sued by him." Ironically enough, I'll see Joe the end of this month, and now, we're friends and we talk all the time, but he was the guy on Food Network at the time. We had to come up with an A name because, in 2004, the phone book mattered. It doesn't now.
Lauren: Oh, that's weird.
Mike: The A mattered in 2004. What A name can we come up with? There were some crap ones in there. There was al dente. I said, "Everyone that comes in is going to want pasta, and then they're going to say, 'It's not al dente,' or 'It's too al dente.'" We're going to deal with that every day. Then, interestingly enough, I was living in an apartment that had no cable, so all I had was DVDs, back when those existed, solely.
Lauren: Wait, what are those?
Mike: I just popped in Godfather 2, and I saw in Godfather 2, that Vito Corleone's real name was Vito Andolini from the town of Corleone. I said, "What about Andolini's?" There is another Andolini's Pizza, but I looked them up at the time. They just didn't have an online presence. We came up with the name, and they stayed in their lane, and we stayed in ours, but there are two Andolini's in America.
Lauren: Where are they?
Mike: They're in South Carolina.
Mike: They have similar stores, but it's Andolini's Pizza. We're Andolini's Pizzeria.
Lauren: The nuances.
Mike: A slight difference, it's like the Ice Ice Baby ... Slightly different, but yeah, so that's where the name came from. Then, from there, everything that we do, we try and have some name structure, whether it be Gennaro salad is named after the Gennaro Festival. The Clemenza is named after another character from the Godfather, but I'm very, very aware, cautious to never name a pizza the gangster, or the mobster, which is way on the nose, or even the John Gotti, after a real mobster because I don't want to glorify people that have bastardized my culture. More so than anything, I just love the movie, and movies and film and art and Godfather being a family favorite of ours.
Lauren: Very cool. In business, rebranding happens, and you recently rebranded your Blue Dome district location from STG's to being Andolini's Sliced. Why did you do that? Where should a business owner change their name or rebrand? What sparked that?
Mike: Totally. Well, changing our logo in 2012 was a definite rebrand. It was, okay, we're not cartoony; we're old world. We're something authentic. Now, we created the brand STG, meaning, Specialty and Tradition Guaranteed, and on paper, it looks like, "Oh, well, STG didn't work, so they changed it to Sliced." It's really not what happened. We took STG, which is a brand in and of itself, and now, it's sub-brand of Andolini's. We make STG items. Andolini's is our spin on Italian classics. Instead of an eggplant Parmesan thinner, it's an appetizer. Instead of garlic knots, which anywhere in America, they're going to come to you oven-baked in Reynolds wrap with three big ones. We deep fry around 10 of them in a bowl. If you ever see garlic knots in a bowl, that is a direct rip because that is not a normal thing. That is an abnormal thing. We do a spin, but we said, "Let's do stuff ..." Because we've been all around the world, let's do it exactly as it should be done or as it would be done if we were going for authenticity. The Napoletana style pizza is a very, very hard pizza to make. It's the hardest pizza in the world to make. To do it effectively and the right way means you have a 900-degree oven. You will have an Italian oven from Italy. You use Italian flour, and you use especially have the right process of using the dough in a specific way. That's what we wanted STG to be, and the gelato is not ... Well, it's kind of like what you would get in Rome. No, this is exactly the same manufactured ingredients, the same process, the same machines, and the same case, even down to the same Italian spoons that you would get in Italy so that it's specialty and tradition guaranteed. There is no lie here. That is exactly what it is. That was successful in and of itself. Then we got offered the yoga studio that was behind us so that we could double our space, and we said, "Well, we want to have a bar." We don't have an Andolini's bar because STG doesn't have a bar. We know how to build our bar, so let's build an Andolini style bar downtown. Now, we have this opportunity that we're getting more space to introduce another style of pizza because we went to Italy a few more types and found out this style called Romana, which is a thick, heavily hydrated but very light and airy crust that we are in love with. We said, "Let's introduce that. What if we had slices all day because it's downtown?" We thought that's one thing we would say, "Okay, yeah, if we were smarter about this, we would have a slice option at all times because Napoletana takes a little bit of time. Late at night, people want a quick slice. Middle of the day, people want a quick slice. Let's get Andolini's slices in there with STG and Napoletana and call it Andolini's Sliced." It was accommodating the customer that we didn't really take into account that it was going to be more fast-paced, adding a bar, adding another style of pizza, but no point removing the previous style.
Lauren: You wanted to preserve this STG brand, which is why you gave the new concept a new name.
Lauren: Okay. Kind of in that same thread, it's not often, unless you're Starbucks or something like that, that you see two restaurants right across the street from each other, and yet, that's exactly what you did on Cherry Street and in Broken Arrow with Andolini's and STG. I know that there are nuances between what each offers. STG has pasta and gelato, but why not just sell pasta and gelato at Andolini's. Why take the risk of opening a whole new building that you have to design and staff and fill with people, and really make succeed? What's your thought process behind that? That just seems so risky?
Mike: One of my good friends who's taught me a lot about the pizzeria business, his name is Tony Gemignani. He's out of California. He is the Michael Jordan of pizza. I'm a Scottie Pippen at best to his Jordan.
Lauren: All right.
Mike: What he's done is he started a lot like us in a suburb and then moved into the heart of San Francisco, and then from there, he had some venture capital come under him and open up almost like a Hard Rock restaurant, but it's a Hard Rock pizzeria called Pizza Rock. Those were successful, and then he built a second one in Sacramento, but he built it in the middle of kind of a dead street that was up and coming. His thought was, "Okay, I need to make this a scene, to make it a scene that's going to help both properties. I'm going to take Pizza Rock and make a bar next to it," that he called the Dive Bar, which had mermaids in a pool or in an aquarium above the bar at the Dive Bar. Get it? It's a play on words.
Lauren: Nice one. Nice one.
Mike: Then he had a club next door because he wanted to be a like a rock club. They would start at one place, go to the next, go to the next. I thought that was an interesting idea. Now, that was part of the reason was if we build more things, the place becomes a scene. If you don't want competition, go open your restaurant in the middle of the desert. You will have none, and you won't have to worry about customers either. I'm big on creating a scene. I'm happy when someonet else opens on our street because it makes more things and more of a draw, but I like to have things that complement more overtly. Now, bars complement each other well. A side story I saw in San Francisco also, the street had all the same bar, pretty much, and everyone was kind of doing the same beer and shot thing in this area near the marina. Then all the owners of these, around eight bars, got together and said, "Let's stop doing this, and let's have a two-year plan to modify and have each one of us kind of do something else that's our thing." Then one bar became more of the rum Mojito bar. The next bar became the hardcore whiskey bar. The next bar became more of a interesting craft beer bar.
Lauren: That's interesting collaboration.
Mike: Exactly. I'm really big on getting all the business owners together and saying, "What can we do so we're on the same page about our growth?" Now, going back, when it comes to why did I build the gelateria in Broken Arrow, that one just had to do with production. I don't have enough space in the Broken Arrow Andolini's to fit anything. There's no room to do ... I maybe could, but then we'd lose seats. Now, we're losing seats to add this other thing, and we don't even have the space for it. It's not even a possibility, and we had to do production. We still have production at The Farm Shopping Center. It wasn't big enough, so we moved it to Broken Arrow. That worked out, and then the Cherry Street location, another thing that fell into our lap. It wasn't like we need to do this on Cherry Street. We had My Fit Foods, which is a massive walk-in, a same level walk-in for what they were doing, which was across the street from us, and someone purchased that property and said, "Would you like to take this and do all of your prep here?" Now, my best pepperoni slice guy who would get to the store anyway at 8:00 and slice for maybe an hour on pepperoni, and then move on to doing dough. Well, he just does pepperoni for the whole company at 6:00 AM, gets more money, and then we take a car, and take the pepperoni at each store to cut down on our food cost, but still have the same exact product made just as fresh, but it's done by the fastest guy in the company. It made a physical sense for us to have this prep kitchen. That's what the back of the place is.
Lauren: I had no idea that was back there.
Mike: We don't really advertise that to the customer. We got a property that now, someone could have an enjoyable gelato experience, which I want for the customer. In Italy, you start at dinner. Dinner goes maybe from 8:30 until 10:30, maybe 11:00 at night, and then you find a gelateria, and you walk home, and it's very peaceful.
Lauren: Do you think Tulsans are doing that? To me I go to Andolini's, I get stuffed because the pizzas are massive. I'm like, "I can't even think about dessert." Do you think people are doing that here?
Mike: I know for a fact people are going across the street and finishing their night off.
Mike: That's a fact.
Mike: Going in and walking home, well, that only applies to the people that live very adjacent, but yes, I believe that people are, but yeah, some people get stuffed, and that's fine too.
Lauren: You're opening a new concept in the Mother Road Market pretty soon. It's called Metropolis. For those who aren't familiar, they're going to serve sandwiches and hot dogs, and they're inspired by New York and Chicago and Pittsburgh. Why venture away from pizza? If pizza is what you know, it's what you've lived and breathed all these years, why this new content?
Mike: We know pizza very well, but we are the pizza guys, we are the Italian guys, but there's something to be said about the modern Italian-American, and in New York, I know a lot about hot dogs. I mean, again, our first thing that we were going to do is going to be a German beer hall. I'm Irish, Italian, German. I've got all three sides. The Irish is in the beers. The Italian is on the pizza. We're going to pop out that German side.
Lauren: All right.
Mike: Then it starts with, "Okay, well, we're going to do hot dogs like we know, but let's not do it bastardized," because I'm very keenly aware. I'm friends with Ellie. I'm friends with these guys in the city. I want to say, "What can we do that hasn't been done," because I just go and get a regular Chicago dog. I mean, there's a few spots, but also a Philly cheese steak, also a Pittsburgh style sandwich. Then we do like making food. We want to have these standards in one location. Then we've always wanted to be able to do lumpia, but how do we, as two Irish-Italian guys, pull off lumpia, which is a Filipino food, in a pizzeria. You really can't. Well, what if we make a whole lumpia store? Well, now you're doing a Filipino concept. How does that work? We wanted to do something where we could say, "How do we just pay homage to that pool of simple food and do it exactly like we do with STG, where we learned ..." I'm not from Naples. I have never been to Naples until I started competing internationally, but then I would sit in the city, live there, learn the process, learn from the best guys in the world, and then say, "Okay, now, let's do this." Well, I already done that 10 times over when it comes to New York and Chicago and all the food of America. It's an opportunity, especially, it's very geared towards the Mother Road Market. There is a need for something like there's a lot of taco places in there. There's a great wings place being done by Philip Phillips of Lone Wolf, and we wanted to do something that hasn't been done along with Adolini's Sliced, and we want to make Mother Road Market a big success. When it comes to Metropolis, we get to do all these cool things. If I want to do a Cuban sandwich, I could just say, "Okay, this week is Miami week." Boom Cuban sandwich. You want to do tacos. I want to them in the style of San Francisco, or I want to do them in the style of San Diego, or I want to do a Maui fish taco. I'm not beholden to one thing, which is what a lot of the times happens to us. Interestingly enough, one of our first food items in Andolini's Pizzeria, along with our caprese antipasto and our Tenbysimmo all-meat pizza, was shrimp rolls, Italian shrimp rolls. They were not Italian, but we thought we had to say Italian. It was like a perfect egg roll but with shrimp and cilantro inside of it, and it was fantastic, and no one would buy it because the brand was pizzeria outside. Now, we're hoping, well, we have an all-encompassing brand, then maybe we can make all-encompassing items.
Lauren: You kind of touched on this a little earlier, but I read an article, and it was saying that you and your brother have turned down offers to come to Stillwater, to come to Oklahoma City, and the reason that was given in the article was that you want to be able to touch all your restaurants. You want to keep them close. You want to be able to check in on them. What happens when you become too saturated in Tulsa? You're going to reach a point where you've done everything you can do in Tulsa. Do you think you're going to hold firm to that conviction in the future, or does it make sense to expand other cities?
Mike: I would say, if you want to tell God a joke, tell him your plans. He'll find it hilarious. I'm going to be a lawyer in the Marine Corps. No, you're not. You're going to make pizza in Tulsa. What? That doesn't make any sense. That's the 17-year-old me. I don't know. I mean, right now, asking me today, I'd say we get ... Metropolis has legs to do a few more things. Sliced is and easier to start concept if I just do one oven, a few pizzas, a few gelato, pretty doable. Andolini's is a behemoth. Every Andolini's I open, a full-blown Andolini's pizzeria brick and mortar takes at least three years off my life, I'm pretty sure. Training 40 to 60 people in five days to all of our restaurant standards, and then just saying, "Go," is a really hard feat, and it takes a lot of effort. It's very mind-numbing. Now, doing smaller things is cool. Metropolis, we could do it. I mean, we have thoughts about doing it in other areas around Tulsa, but we have to see how it does here. As far as saturation goes, if I can touch it, then it's real. I'm not just saying me, but a lot of stuff sucks. We kind of sold that we don't suck, and we want to keep to that. In addition, just for the sake of argument, if open tomorrow in, let's say, Kansas City, what am I going to be? It's not going to be, oh, this great restaurant from Tulsa. It'll be like, "Some corporate chain's moving in. I don't know where they're from, they're probably from Idaho," because people aren't aware of our story. I went to an Oklahoma City ... A person who sells food, a food distributor, their warehouse, and everyone was giving us a tour of the warehouse. Meanwhile, all the food reps that want to get our business or know our whole story, everyone, "Oh, where are you from?" Tulsa? What are you selling? Andolini's. Are you opening a new store? Are you new to it? No, no, I've been there 13 years. Never heard of it.
Lauren: They don't know. Yeah.
Mike: There's people that would get it, but it's not enough to sustain a whole population. You have to build it up from scratch. That's a big thing. Then, a lot of stuff that other people don't ... If I leave the state, and I leave my network of supply chains, I've got to start all that over, which is not easy because our stuff is very specific. We built a little network in Tulsa that, okay, one of the ovens goes down, we have parts ready to rock to go to all of them. When you open one and two, it's really hard. At three and four, a few things get easier. One is that, oh, one store is out of cheese. Well, three other probably have it. You're not out of product. When you have one store, you are going to be out of product. It's one store, how can you run out? Well, when I have six stores, it's impossible to run out of anything, pretty much. You go back into Stillwater, now, you're one store because you're two hours away from anything, and there's a lot of problems there. I don't have any issue or beef with Hideaway, and that's the Hideaway in Stillwater, but people want to create these pizza wars that done exist. I don't really want to feed into it. It's a hard market. I think we would do well. I'm not saying no to it, but it's not the first thing on my mind. Oklahoma City, they were so in love with them Devon Tower and all the stuff that's going to happen, but there's a bunch of new cool pizzerias that opened in the last four years. Empire Slice House, I'm a fan of.
Lauren: So good.
Lauren: Hall's is really good too.
Mike: They're coming up, and there wasn't a big pizza. Now, there is. Dallas is one of the few cities in the world, in the world I would even say, that doesn't have a style of pizza. That's a big tier one city. You have New York style, Chicago style, San Francisco style. Then Dallas, I don't know if we really have pizza.
Lauren: Barbecue and tacos.
Mike: Then a place called Cane Rosso opened and is doing Napoletana. They're doing it very well, but I don't want to go to Dallas. I don't like Dallas. I don't want to drive to Dallas. I want to live in Tulsa because I love Tulsa. I'm the adopted son of Tulsa. I do not like not being here. I love driving and parking my car at Sliced, walking a few blocks and singing Van Halen, and being home by 11:30. That doesn't happen in any other place I have ever lived. If I wanted to see Van Halen play the Cow Palace in California, I will leave my house in the Bay Area at 3:00 PM. Go on traffic for two hours. Pay $20 to go over the bridge. Go in, probably get my car at least looked at to get robbed. Go back to my car. Go on traffic for an hour getting out of the Cow Palace, get home by a solid 1:00 AM, and be feeling like crap the next day. Again, I love Tulsa.
Lauren: I feel like the city is going to pull this little chunk to use for recruiting efforts in the future.
Mike: Oh, please do.
Lauren: Hey, what do you do to develop yourself as an entrepreneur?
Mike: That's a great question. A lot of this business, when you are the owner, becomes four walls, you see the same ... Even if you're driving all day, it's the same people you're calling, same things you're talking to, same people that work for you that you're having conversations with. Breaking your mind out of that is something that I've become more aware of in the last four years. Networking groups that aren't BS, "Hi, well, I'm Dale. Oh, I'm Time." Those, networking groups, I want nothing to do with. A networking group like, "Okay, let's sit in a room. Let's talk about what each entrepreneur is doing."
Lauren: Are you a part of any of those?
Mike: I've been part of two of them currently. I just got involved with the ... There's the CEO Roundtable. It's done by the Chamber. It's a very strong program I'm in with other people. There's Entrepreneurs' Organization, which is a little bit more specific of a group that has tapped me to be a part of it. These groups, being self-reflective is important. It's not about sitting in a room, holding hands and doing Kumbaya. It's really about, "Okay, what do I suck at? What am I good at? How am I working on being better at what I'm good at, and fulfilling the things that I suck at or supplementing it, and being aware of that." The biggest enemy of success is ego, and people believe that entrepreneurs have big egos. I've never met a successful entrepreneur that has a large ego, that is a true large ego. It's a BS large ego. You want to talk even Kanye. Kanye goes home and hates himself at night. I guarantee you because he's thinking about, what am I sucking at? What could I be better at? It's an act. Most guys like that, it's earned and it's an act if they have an ego. I make sure that I don't have one. I've seen a lot of restaurants fail. I saw 42 restaurants in Owasso fail when I opened to before I opened Cherry Street.
Mike: They're all failing because I would say, "Hey, I have this really good food rep. He's nice. By all means, I'll give you my card to you if when you're opening." I got a guy. I don't need you. That type of attitude is pervasive in the food industry, and those guys close.
Lauren: It sounds like community is the key for you, that you can be transparent with, solve issues with.
Mike: I have a community of pizza guys. I'm going to go to Atlantic City at the end of this month and do a few food demos and talks at the Pizza & Pasta Expo, and then that weekend, we're all getting together to throw the first pizza festival, a New York pizza festival in The Bronx. There's a story a year ago where someone put on the Brooklyn pizza festival and charged $300 a head, and people showed up to a parking lot that had 10 boxes of Domino's, and then he just left with the money. It's a national story. It was great. This is the anti of that festival.
Lauren: You're going to do it right.
Mike: The best guys in America are all going to be in one room or one street doing pizza in The Bronx. All of us know each other, and we have ... It's almost like your camp friends when you see these guys, and they're flying over America. They'll stop into Tulsa. Get a side flight so they can see my pizzeria, and I fly out to their pizzerias. It's a very communal thing.
Lauren: You have this, we're all in this together.
Lauren: Yeah, very cool. Usually, we end with the question, how would you encourage an entrepreneur who's walking through a rough season, and I want to modify that a little bit today because restaurants are hard. Like you said, a lot fail. Even people without ego fail. What would you say specifically to encourage a restaurant owner that's really struggling to make it work right now?
Mike: There's a few things I would say to myself when forcing myself to have hubris was this is going to be really hard. This is going to be really hard. There's a 50% failure rate. There's nothing that says you'll do this, even family members that were like, "Well, what are you going to do after the restaurant?" People doubting and whatnot. You can have that be your fuel, but the biggest thing is it's really easy. I would look at other restaurants and say, "All these other dummies figured it out. The hell do they have that I don't. Maybe money, but I could figure money out. I could figure this out. I could do this. Then saying, "What am I going to do so I'm not in love with myself, so I can be different, and do it?" I know a lot of guys who come up to me and they'll say, "Hey, I want to open this pizzeria." They come up with some random, crazy thing that I've never heard of. I think in my head, "It's not going to work." I don't tell them that, but I was like, "Okay, you really have to push because it's not going to be easily accepted." Some of those guys actually opened, and some of those guys are just talk, and they never do. Another thing is just doing, going out there and failing, and say, "Okay, that didn't work. Do this." We had a massive amount of frozen raviolis when we first opened. We're like, "That'll be our thing. We'll have a bunch of ravioli." Then I realized, when Spaghetti Warehouse got the same ravioli that we did just a week later, and said, "Oh, this is selling well for those Andolini's guys." We're both the same thing. We're both selling Chicken McNuggets, but calling ourselves a different name. I got rid of all that and tried to be as unique as possible. Now, we make ravioli at our pastaria, and we're going to have that being sold, but very cognizant to not be the same and to be my own brand. To someone who's up and coming and say, "Can I do this," you have to say to yourself, "Yes, I can, and I'm going to succeed because failure is not an option," and then be smart about it. If you think it's going to be $100,000, two and a half times that. It's going to be $250,000. If you think it's going to take up eight hours of your day, double it. It'll take up 16 hours of your day at a minimum. Then if you're married, are you prepared to get divorced? That's a big question to people who open a business. If you have kids, are you prepared to not see them really grow up because this is not a hobby? It's a career. It's a hard career. It's not a career that thanks you. Those are questions you have to ask yourself. If you say yes to all those, and you're one of the odd ones, then put your head down and just plow through.
Lauren: Mike, thanks so much for coming in to share your story, amazing story. We're really thankful for your time.
Mike: Right on. Thank you so much.
Announcer: The F Word is brought to you by 36 Degrees North, Tulsa's base camp for entrepreneurs. To learn more about our workspace, community, and resources, visit 36n.co. The F Word season two is recorded in the KOSU studio and produced by Lauren King.