How To: Open a Pizza Parlor, Part I
Set a Date & Take Inventory
Often PCVs are told to expect the unexpected. I don’t quite know how you can possibly do that if by definition the thing is unexpected but I will take this to mean “be open,” and as I said before, “always say yes.”
A little over a week ago we were having a morning meeting with our counterpart when he said to us, “I want to ask you a favor.” We nodded and listened.
“I want you to do what you did for Mujeres Cambia for the bakery.”
We nodded and listened some more.
“I want you to run it as if it were your own business. I’m putting you two in charge.”
This is how we became the driving force behind a new micro-enterprise in our town.
We had subsequent discussions that same day about what “being in charge” of the bakery meant and what exactly he liked about our work with Mujeres Cambia. Basically, our counterpart told us he was impressed by the progress we had made with the women’s group and he wanted us to approach the bakery with the same project management and creative tools.
What could we say but, “¡Sí!”
The first thing we did was to determine a Grand Re-opening date. We had the initial conversation on a Saturday so we decided that the next Sunday would be the big day.
We would have a week to help turn this business around.
Now that we had an end date in mind, we could begin the long and arduous task of figuring out how to use the bakery space in a novel way, how to include the community in the next venture, how to fund this new initiative, and how to motivate the staff and students to work with us.
We had been discussing making pizza out of the bakery for several weeks. The bakery coordinator and Paul had made some pizzas a couple of weeks earlier and they had turned out really well. We discussed the idea of a pizza parlor with our counterpart and he was enthusiastic. We did informal surveys of youth group members to see if they wanted a pizza parlor and they answered with a resounding, “¡Sí!”
We had our date and we had our concept but we needed to get funding and support from the community. Luckily, board members from the youth group are also members of the local community bank. Even luckier was the fact that the community bank was meeting that night!
Community banks are cooperative groups whose members meet weekly to save a set amount of money while also being eligible for small, short-term loans to fund micro enterprises. The interest and any fees paid by members are distributed evenly at the end of one year. A popular PC project, this community bank had been started by a PCV at our site nearly three years ago. It was still going strong, distributing its money each year to members and then starting back up for another year.
We were fortunate that we had this source of income to invest and we took full advantage taking out a loan for the maximum amount with an interest rate of 5% (loan amount and interest rates are determined by each bank independently). Now that we had some capital, we needed human resources to make this idea into a reality.
Our counterpart called a series of meetings where we talked with the youth group’s management and staff about what was happening with the bakery. The venture had been losing money for some time and it was clear that something new needed to happen to save jobs and money. While the idea of closing the bakery was sad, management and staff were excited about this opportunity to open something new in the same space.
We took an inventory of equipment and supplies and determined that a shopping trip was in order. We made our list, determined a budget, and did some internet research the night before. The next day, Sunday, we traveled with the pizzeria coordinator (former bakery coordinator), to the nearest big city where we could find supplies at the open air market, a big box store reminiscent of Costco (just smaller and with fewer bulk items), and do some research at area pizza places.
Considering that we live an hour away from all of this stuff we really aren’t any competition for other pizzerias. This gave us the chance to ask two different pizza places about their suppliers, to taste their recipes, and to buy delivery boxes from them. Everyone we encountered was really supportive and a third pizza parlor that was just setting up for the day when we arrived still gave us some free boxes.
We came in under budget, purchasing everything from mozzarella cheese to plastic cups. Next, we had to create an identity for our new pizza place.