Mentors heroes and a guy named Howard
Over the years here at Pappagallo’s Satellite Beach I have had many people who have been in this business or some other retail type venture, word of advice if your starting out in a new business or a new career and you meet someone who has retired after 30-40 years of doing what you’re just starting. If you cross paths with one of these folks and your lucky enough to get them to talk to you about how they made it, do yourself a favor, listen!
If you’ve read any of the last blogs we’ve written you remember Bill and his general hatred for my original booths.
When I was in the first location of Pappagallo’s Indian Harbour Beach I was lucky to have my first few staff members that were friends first. These guys worked day jobs and would come in at night to hang out, grab some dinner and ended up being more help to me than I can ever have thanked them for.
These are the people that made Pappagallo’s (Indian Harbour Beach, Indialantic, Satellite Beach) fun, I mean you’re working 7 days a week never seemed like a lot because all my patrons became friends so when they came into eat it was like hanging out but I was just on the other side of the counter.
From pickup basketball games against the gym staff where we trained (incidentally the pizza guys beat the meatheads…twice) to late night jogging workouts through the neighborhood behind Pappagallo’s Indian Harbour Beach, our little restaurant became a meeting place where our friends would come alone because there was no doubt someone they knew would be eating at Papa’s or at least the staff and myself were there to shoot the breeze with while we spun pizzas and made subs.
One of the first food reps I met was a man named Howard, I was around 19 years old working at my parents restaurant at the time.
Howard was a former pizza guy who had sold his store and wanted to do something outside of the kitchen. Howard’s advantage over other textbook salespeople (by textbook salespeople I mean people who have never really worked in a kitchen but sell food) the advantage being that Howard knew a lot more about his products then most other reps.
Howard and I hit it off right away, he was honest to the point of fault and if something got messed up he made sure to fix the problem personally, I respected him for that. When I branched off on my own and opened Pappagallo’s in Indian Harbour beach Howard was the first salesperson I contacted, the year was 1990.
My parents restaurant was 200 seats and had a full liquor bar, when I was working for them it was my job to order for both of the stores that my parents had running at the time. When Pappagallo’s Indian Harbour Beach opened I went from ordering for a big operation like that to drastic downsize of my little 5 booth take out place, the change was a definite drop in the account size Howard was used to.
My point is that Howard is the kind of guy that takes care of his accounts the same no matter if your a big account or just starting out, that’s hard to find, believe me I found that out many times in those early days when the big suppliers wouldn’t deliver to us because we were literally too small.
Howard always came by and was a big help in any way he could be, to this day I never have to compare his pricing like I have to with other companies, I understand prices go up on certain things throughout the year. Other companies will quote one price than ship in at another, if you’re not careful or check you’ll end up paying more than expected. Howard always tells me when prices go up but he always bring prices back in line when markets change back to normal without my ever having to ask.
Let me tell you a couple cases when Howard showed he was more family than salesman and why he will have every item he sells as long as we’re both still in this crazy business.
The first Pappagallo’s Indian Harbour Beach was devastated by fire that started in the business next door to us, we weren’t even open but we managed to lose everything. A few days after the fire, Howard showed up to see how we were doing, I thought he came to collect on our last invoice, as I started to write the check he quickly asked what I was doing, I said, “l need to pay you for last weeks order.” Howard shook his head and said, “that’s not by I’m here, you pay me when you can. I’m only here to check on you and see if there was anything you need.”
I insisted on paying him, honestly I didn’t know if we would be able to reopen after this devastating loss, more on this situation in a separate blog about the importance of not letting your insurance lapse for 4 days, yeah that happened …
We reopened a short distance down the road in a small building that had to be remodeled, it was a nicer spot but it took us 5 months to get back to business. Our relationship with Howard and his company remained strong through the move and into the years after that. Years went by and every week Howard would come by, I’d place my order and he’d keep me updated on what was going on out there with other places and describe new ideas he saw working in other stores he visited.
So first we had a fire next we had visits from not one hurricane but two.
The year was 2004, hurricane Charlie was the first storm to pass by south Florida that year, most of the people evacuating from that storm landed in Brevard to ride the storm out. This was a bad situation for south Florida but gave Pappagallo’s Indialantic our biggest weekend that we ever had, I was glad that those folks didn’t get a lot of damage from Charlie and it had been a record setting week, so things were going pretty well…
Wait, what’s that there’s 2 storms lined up heading this way?
Yep not 1 storm but 2, Frances and Gene, 2 ladies that kicked Pappagallo’s Indialantic butt!! Long story short we had 2 stores running at the time, we went from the biggest week we ever had to out of business in the same week. Pappagallo’s Indialantic had roof damage and no power for several weeks, most of our equipment was damaged from roof coming in or corrosion from not having power for several weeks while moisture had time to do its work.
As expected Howard came by to check on me as expected, he pulled up as I was throwing literally everything we had in the dumpster, Howard looked at me and said, call me when you need me, you’ve got your hands full. We reopened several weeks later with Howards help, he extended us a credit line to allow us to restock Pappagallo’s Indialantic and get back on our feet. So now we’re at 1 fire 2 hurricanes and the addition of another restaurant 10 miles down the road, fondly remembered as the dumbest thing I ever did, I’m only half kidding.
I ran the new store and left my established Pappagallo’s Indialantic with a young man who grew up with Pappagallo’s Indialantic and I thought understood how it ran. This was before I had the staff and team I have behind me now, I was sure that if I just worked hard enough I could do everything that 2 restaurants needed from me. I’ve never worked so hard so many hours a week to fall behind. Simply put, I wasn’t nearly ready to expand and thought I could figure it out as I went along, huge mistake!
The first year things were great, there was an economic boom and everything was going great, property values were at an all time high and business was crazy good. Then 2007-08 came knocking, economy crashed, car makers were getting bailouts property values plunged and everyone thought they would lose their jobs. Needless to say this was not a good time to be in restaurant business. We decided to close the newer store and get back to basics with our original Pappagallo’s in Satellite Beach.
Pappagallo’s had just moved to its current location in Satellite Beach and had spent the first few months under the direction of another manager. There are a lot of things that I’m leaving out because they have little to do with the man I’m trying to tell you about, namely Howard.
You see I returned to Pappagallo’s Satellite Beach to find that it was on a downward spiral, a lot had changed and the reputation it took 20 years to build was all but a memory. I thought about ending the story of Pappagallo’s right then, the store was literally on the verge of closing all the bills were behind and most of the regular patrons and catering business had come to know us as the place “that used to be good.”
One night while trying to decide to shut it down or try to save my place, it came to me that if Pappagallo’s Satellite Beach was going to come to an end it was going to be me in the kitchen not under somebody else’s watch. I had just closed the new place lost everything I had in the process and was sitting in the shell of my former restaurant. I had no money to even buy supplies to stay open at that point, that’s when Howard walked in…
Howard knew who was going on, he had been there all along and had seen the decline of our store. I never sugarcoat anything with Howard, I told him I wasn’t sure it could be saved that all our business had disappeared due to our own negligence and just general departure of what we had been doing for 20 years. Basically what that means is we stopped doing what had made us great.
Howard told me that I had always paid him and after all these. Years he knew I was good for whatever I needed he had no doubt I would pay him and he would extend whatever credit we needed to get us back on our feet.
If you are still reading this what you need to understand that no other company would do this, Howard put his neck out for me and Pappagallo’s, it was his butt on the line if we failed, I really think I was more worried than he was at that point.
So it’s late 2008 and we’re back in the town it started only this time we’re starting in the hole with a lot of digging to do to get back to where we wanted to be. Pappagallo’s Satellite Beach came back with me and just a few trusted staff members, it wasn’t an instant welcome home, I mean nobody really knew what was going on they just thought Pappagallo’s Satellite Beach had changed like so many other places do after so many years.
The next hero to the story was my then girlfriend and now wife Tricia.
Even after all these years I’m still a behind the scenes kind of guy, many people claim to “know Dave,” it’s an ongoing joke around here, but ask them to describe him and they may admit to never actually seeing him. I’m sort of the Bigfoot of local pizza, many say they see me, few actually have and most aren’t sure I exist.
Anyway, Tricia comes up with this idea, much to my objection I might add, she has 100 yard signs printed with our logo printed on them with phrase “Dave is back at Pappagallo’s” accompanied by the phone number.
Two things happened:
First the phone started ringing, people asked I’d Dave was back for real, then they would place their catering order.
Secondly, I had to admit I was wrong and tell Tricia she had a great idea and I was an idiot for doubting anyone would care if I was back.
It was a tough few years getting through all the mistakes I had made, I gained quite an education on what not to do in business and learned who the people who stand with you when there really doesn’t seem like there is much to gain. Howard has always been there and he has taken a lot of pride watching us work through the fires, the hurricanes, the restart of a lost business.
Whenever Howard visits I always spend some time catching up on what’s going on with both of us. It’s to the point where if we have a new person at work and they see me with Howard, eventually they will ask, ”who is that guy, I never see you sit down with anyone.” I always smile, remember all these stories you’ve just heard and I say, ”that’s the guy who saved Pappagallo’s.”