A Passion for Pizza—and Risk Analysis

How a common tool helped one quality professional pursue an unlikely dream

by Denise Wrestler

I’ve always dreamed of owning my own restaurant. My childhood was filled with Play-Doh pizza sets that I would serve to the family dog. I’ve been told my first word was “pepperoni.”

Just kidding—I’ve never wanted to own a restaurant. My idea of making pizza is opening a box or removing a wrapper, and I’m certain my first words were “Document it or it didn’t happen.” (I was a talkative baby.)

But it seems like that’s how every dream-come-true story starts—with a black-and-white flashback to someone’s early beginnings, foreshadowing a master in the making.

Then there’s me: I have 15 years of quality and regulatory experience in the medical device field, my husband has 20 years’ experience in finance, neither of us have any prior restaurant experience—and we’re opening our first pizzeria.

So, how does a couple like us decide to open a pizza restaurant anyway? For the past two and a half years, we’ve wondered the same thing. Why would self-proclaimed sane and financially savvy professionals make such a seemingly ridiculous decision?

Our story is a roller coaster—one I hope will inspire and excite others to follow their passions and take risks, but only after the appropriate risk analysis, of course.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees of inspiration

In December 2013, my mom came to visit me and my family. Between the long sessions of holiday shopping, we decided to stop at our favorite local pizza joint, Pizza Inn. My mom was excited to finally try the amazing pizza we’d been telling her about.

Instead, when we pulled up to the restaurant, we were greeted by a “Closed for good” sign posted on the window, chains on the doors and darkness throughout the empty building.

Our jaws dropped. It was like someone had ripped out our pizza-shaped hearts. My six-year-old daughter had huge alligator tears welling up in her eyes, and my 10 year old was yelling, red in the face, about to burst into tears. Our family was heartbroken.

The “For lease” sign posted in the window and the unpainted trim outline where the restaurant’s sign once hung were constant reminders of the deliciousness that used to be there. We patiently waited for years, hoping someone would bring it back to life.

It wasn’t until passing by that empty space for the thousandth time that I came up with an idea. I frantically pulled out my cellphone and called my husband. Our conversation went something like this:

“Hey honey, you know the Pizza Inn we loved that went out of business?”

“Yeah,” he responded.

“You know how we’ve been waiting for someone to revive it?” I asked.

“Um, yeah,” he said tentatively.

“Why don’t we bring it back?”

After a stunned silence he said, “Because we don’t know anything about owning a restaurant.”

“But we could learn!”

That single conversation was the tiny snowflake that ultimately created the giant snowball that changed our lives forever. A few emails, conference calls and a very long franchisee application later, we were on our way to reviving our beloved pizza restaurant.

My passion for not only pursuing a new money-making endeavor, but also fulfilling a community demand was the driving factor—the action that created the need for risk analysis in the first place.

Creating a list of all possible hazards and risks is the first step to any good risk analysis. But for me, identifying the biggest risk—our inexperience—and being able to immediately mitigate it through ridiculous amounts of training had to be addressed before our new endeavor could go any further.

Gently knead (need) the dough

When telling our friends and family about our new venture, the same three questions always came up:

“Why would you open a restaurant when you don’t know the first thing about owning one?”

“Will you quit your jobs and do this full time?”

“How can you afford this?”

The questions were posed differently every time—some included curse words or tears of concern—but they all surrounded the same three topics. Our friends and family were right to ask these questions, because we also had asked them many times.

I never believed in the age-old adage, “Things happen for a reason.” But I do now. There is absolutely nothing inconsequential about how three major elements in our lives all changed in such perfect harmony: Thanks to the changing housing market and election year, my husband’s income as a mortgage broker began to suffer, our retirement portfolio of investment properties could no longer grow and my job was relocated to Mexico. It was a trifecta of bad news.

Or was it? Instead of returning to industry, I decided to consult full time, which resulted in a flexible schedule and pay bump. Our retirement plan, cleverly disguised as a property management organization, was due for a makeover, and the housing market was primed and ready for liquidating and reinvesting. My husband, more than ready for a career change, was now in the perfect spot to do so with minimal risk.

With a clear path forward, the final concern that constantly resurfaced was our lack of experience. Being business-savvy individuals, we didn’t throw our lives into this opportunity blindly. We researched, called, emailed, calculated and planned. We read every line of every agreement that was put in front of us. We learned and absorbed information like sponges. We worked on a mitigation plan for the risks we had identified. And the more we learned, the more questions we had, which led to even more mitigation.

Slowly but surely, we became more confident in our venture. Our lack of experience eventually became a hurdle small enough to jump over. Our mitigation efforts proved effective, lowering the severity of our risks to an acceptable level and giving us the confidence to continue forward.

Top with cheese, pepperoni, sweat and tears

According to my children, and several individuals who probably don’t know any better, making pizza is fun and easy. How hard could it possibly be to roll out dough, slather on sauce, sprinkle it with toppings and throw it in the oven?

As it turns out, very—it is very hard. It’s fun, but it is far from easy.

Just having a place to make pizza was challenging, and I won’t even mention our labor struggles. Finding people to actually make the pizza was a feat in and of itself.

As we progressed in our endeavor, more and more risks that we had overlooked were beginning to surface. There were days we asked ourselves, “What in the heck are we doing?” There were moments we got cold feet and considered turning back. But throughout this journey, we overcame every doubt and are still trekking down that long, bumpy road to making our dream a reality. The risks were plentiful, but the benefits definitely outweighed all the risks we were taking.

Bake for 20-25 years

Our dream, like many others, was built on two specific, long-term goals—bring our favorite pizza place back into our community while also establishing the groundwork for what will hopefully be our sizeable retirement fund.

Throughout this entire process, we constantly remind ourselves why we continue to persevere. Like any good quality process, we consistently recall our root cause. We remind ourselves what our ultimate outcome will achieve. Often, just a glance at our children’s faces, a random tweet from an excited Pizza Inn fan and our dwindling bank account is all it takes to keep the motivation going.

I’ve written articles on risk assessment, career changes and other life-changing events. I’ve practiced my own preaching throughout my life—but this life-changing event has by far taken the cake. Unlike simple job changes, this risk assessment affects the greatest amount of my future. My analysis includes the lifespan of this project and—if my calculations are correct—will take me well into retirement. I’ve given birth to another child in my life, a cheesy delicious one I’ll love unconditionally forever. The longevity of my risk taking has been a huge consideration throughout this process.

Slice and serve

The signs are up—our restaurant is “coming soon.” The community is excited about what we’re bringing to their town, and we’re so excited to be the ones to deliver it.

It’s not just about the mouthwatering pizza, it’s also about giving back. We’re excited to be able to promote community events in our restaurant, host kids’ nights and senior nights, and fundraiser nights for local nonprofits (fittingly named “doughraisers”).

Being able to chase our dream—while also serving our community—has become more rewarding than I imagined. How our actions are affecting others is proving to be a larger contributing factor to our risk analysis than I initially budgeted.

I hope that my story of entrepreneurship and risk-taking inspires others to think outside the box. It’s never too late to chase your passion. You’re never too old to gamble with your future. Just make sure the risks you take are appropriate for you.

Denise Wrestler is an independent quality assurance/regulatory assurance consultant for CYA Medical Device Consulting in Dallas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. An ASQ member, Wrestler is an ASQ-certified quality auditor and engineer.

This was a very inspiring read for a slow night at work. Thanks for sharing. =)
--Kenya Small , 10-10-2018

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