July 30, 2012 |

My Turn: Michael Sutcliffe, Pizza Pronto, Wheaton, IL

By Pizza Today

If I only knew…

Michael Sutcliffe, Pizza Pronto, Wheaton, IL

After nearly 20 years of running big-box retailers, I decided that it was time for me to chase the American dream and take a leap of faith in opening my very own pizza place.

Little did I know how much easier it was to dream the American dream than to actually live it. I have heard my entire life: “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” Well I love pizza, so it made sense to me to make a living making pizza.

I have an old high school buddy who has done well for himself as an entrepreneur. So I sought his advice on becoming a business owner myself. I began the conversation thinking I knew as much as I needed to know to start my place. After all I have run big box stores with teams as large as 500 and sales volumes as high as $75 million annually. I figured after all that being my own boss would be pretty simple.

One hour into the conversation I had created the biggest work list ever:

  • Create a business plan.
  • Get a real idea of food costs. (The first time I went to the local store to buy ingredients I spent $75 and made two pies. My wife nearly ky­boshed the whole plan that day).
  • Do some real market research. (This requires a whole lot more than order­ing from every pizza place in a five-mile radius of my home.)
  • LLC or corporation?
  • Equipment costs (buy or lease? New or used?).
  • Leasing a space (location, location, location…).
  • Construction costs.
  • Payroll planning and budgeting.
  • Taxes.

The list literally went on and on and on.

The sad fact was and is that becoming a pizza entrepreneur is very much like having your first child. No matter how many classes you take or how many books you read, you will never be as prepared as you had hoped and nothing is as effective as a little experience. As the father of five, I am hoping the same rules also apply to the business: work real hard, love ’em a lot and in the end it’s going to be okay.

After I completed the list and did my research, I really felt like I was ready to begin. Perhaps a better way of stat­ing that is that I couldn’t wait to begin and so I jumped in and began making mistakes right away.

  • I prematurely signed a lease.
  • I set unreasonable timelines.
  • I made ridiculous errors in the permit process.

I began the work of making the dream a reality in October of 2011. As I write this, it is June 2012 and I am praying and hoping we will finally be able to proudly serve the community of Wheaton, Illinois, a deliciously afford­able pizza in the summer of this year. But I have learned from my experi­ences. I believe I am a better man and businessperson for the past year.

Today my list is growing bigger and bigger every day. I need to:

  • Brand.
  • Develop a smart phone app.
  • Finalize recipes and my menu.
  • Select vendors.
  • Complete construction.
  • Hire and train the team.
  • Focus on food safety.

Again, the list goes on and on and on.

In the end, I have learned a new level of respect for the men and women who came before me, paving the way in NY style and Chicago style, breadsticks and garlic knots, Caesar salad and antipasto salad.

I have found that the pizza commu­nity is a great big loving family, one that I am hungry to be a part of. I am get­ting generous amounts of advice from everyone I meet.

In the end, I can’t wait to meet and serve my customers. My appetite for pizza is bigger today than ever — and I can’t wait to see the look on their face when they taste my pies.