This week The Mentor visited a family pizza shop in Melbourne’s east, Pizzaiola Micheluccio, owned by husband and wife Mick and Lorena, which was struggling to make a profit and keep its head above water. Mick made terrific pizzas but his fiery temper was driving a wedge between the product and the cash register. That is until Mark Bouris showed up.
“The restaurant industry is a tough business,” said Mark Bouris.
“Sixty per cent go broke in the first 12 months. It’s cut-throat, especially when it comes to selling pizzas.”
Mick explained that business was good in the beginning three years ago when they opened, and then it dropped. And with the way it was trending, it seemed likely that the couple would eventually have to sell.
Lorena said that it was heartbreaking: “Not making any profit, living off credit cards, with only $46 in the bank.”
Mr Bouris recognised the couple as passionate fighters, but that they needed help.
“Passion is great — but it isn’t enough. It hurts when you are starting out and you can’t get a break.
“If I’m going to save this business, first of all I’m going to need to work out what the road blocks are.”
To do so, he arranged a pressure test and flooded the restaurant with a full-house of customers. He wanted to see how the family coped.
His found out that there was too little room in the restaurant and an issue with one of the products on the menu — and Mick’s fiery temper which rose under pressure.
“Mick can’t handle the stress, he’s dropping f-bombs left right and center," said Mr Bouris.
“I’m getting stressed out just listening to him, and all of his clients are listening to him too.”
Mr Bouris said Mick should be leading by example, but his aggressive attitude was toxic to both staff and, most importantly, to the customers.
“I’ve just seen an appalling lunch service. No wonder these guys are in trouble."
He then asked the customers what they thought.
“The open kitchen didn’t do them any favours,” said one customer.
“We kept being disrupted by clashes between the staff, telling each other off. It wasn’t a comfortable dinning experience.”
Mr Bouris said Mick had to realise that his behavior was damaging his business.
“You look like a scary guy,” he told Mick straight, “You can’t treat people that way.”
“What you’ve got to do, mate, is be more friendly, because this is a friendly environment and these are not friends; they are your family.”
Mick acknowledged his error: “Hearing what Mark had to say, I felt like very let down about myself.”
Mr Bouris laid down his ultimatum to Mick and Lorena.
“When I first met you I got a sense that you were both kind gentle loving people, but that same sentiment failed to transfer into the shop.
“Fair to say Mick that you show a lot of anger on your face and you create an emotion in the kitchen which spills out into the floor, and your family.
“Do you understand how much that can affect your business, family and everyone else around you?”
And followed it up with a proposal.
“I am proposing to spend a significant amount on your business, giving you extra seating, seeing you serve more people and fix the things that need fixing, so that you can sell those legendary pizzas and start making more money.
“And there will be money spent on warming the place up. Changing the spirit of the place and making it a nice warm friendly atmosphere. Which is what a restaurant is about, it’s about nurturing.
“I want to see that happy friendly Mick and family bleed into the whole business, and everyone have a great restaurant experience.”
Both Mick and Lorena jumped at the opportunity, but it came with a difficult condition. Mick and Lorena needed to change the pizza shop's name.
“The name is a problem,” said Mr Bouris.
“In today’s online world which is where you are going to get the customers from, which is you’re going to get your recommendations and reviews from, people can’t say it. Therefore, they can’t search it.”
They agreed on Little Michael’s Pizzeria, and on that basis, The Mentor invested in the business.
Mr Bouris made the changes agreed to in the deal. The renovations were completed and Little Michael’s Pizzeria opened for business again. On opening night it was packed with happy customers. Best of all, Mick was calm and kept his temper under control.
Lorena beamed: “Seeing Mick being calm reminded me of the boy I met when I was 14 years old and I fell in love with, and I know that we have got this. We can do this.”
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