How did the idea for your business come about?
Back in 2007 I was living in Las Vegas. I went out there for a few months and didn’t really know what I was going to end up doing. I was kind of on a vacation from my vacation in San Diego and I saw these bike taxis. I knew I was going back to Columbus. I traveled a lot in my twenties but Columbus always brought me back. For whatever reason I find that it just brings people back. So anyway, I saw these bike taxis and thought they would be the perfect thing for the Short North. So in 2008, E.C.T Pedicab opened, the bike taxi service. They’re still around today, the white pedicabs. Those opened in 2008 and for that first year, I drove around the Short North and had a blast doing that.
I kept hearing from people on the back of the cabs at bar close time around 2-3 in the morning and they were asking “where’s the pizza by the slice in this city.” After hearing that so much I was kind of just like well shit, where is the pizza by the slice in this city?
There was a little office/shack that was sitting in the parking lot of the apartment building where I lived. I actually still rent it, it’s still our office to this day. That little shack is what turned into the first Late Night Slice. It was kind of one of those things where I asked my landlord what he was doing with it. He was using it as storage at the time and was like “go knock yourself out buddy.” I think he rented it to me for $300. I did all the painting, plumbing, electric. I would ride the pedicab around for a week and have $600-700 saved up and I’d buy a refrigerator, ride for another week or two and I had enough money to buy a pizza oven. Then it was right around Spring 2009 and I was like alright, I’ve got a pizza shop set up. Who knows how to make pizza?? It was in the same location right by Oddfellows, where the shipping container is now, that was the original shack. The shack got torn down a couple years ago and we replaced it with a shipping container kitchen.
And you know, we kind of just grew from there. On July 4th weekend of 2009, that’s when we quietly opened in the Short North. I always say that we quietly opened because we didn’t have our health license when we first opened just because the Health Department was really backed up at the time. I had dumped so much money into LNS – it was around $4-5k which now seems very minuscule, but at the time I was in my mid-late twenties and I was just like woah, I need this thing to start making some money. I called the Health Department and let them know we were ready to be inspected. They said alright, it’s going to be 2-3 weeks. I told them ok, I hung up the phone and we opened that night.
Is that the amount of money you put in to open Mikey’s?
Yes, it was around $4-5 grand if that. This was all an experiment to me. I was buying the cheapest equipment I could find and that’s what I do with most projects at the start. It’s in experiment phase while you’re figuring out if you like doing it. If you do, start dumping a little more money in it, but at the time it was just an experiment.
How did you come up with the ingredients/recipe for the pizza?
It was trial and error, it really was. When we first opened up, we weren’t even making our own pizza. We were just buying it from Pizza Primo up in Clintonville. They were our first provider. We were just buying whole pies from them and reselling them on the street because no one knew how to make pizza. We outgrew that pretty fast though. I had no idea that there were food service providers. I think we were buying dough from Trader Joe’s for a couple of weeks and we really quickly outgrew that. We started making pizza the way we like to eat pizza. Big floppy slices that you can fold up. Chunky sauce but a little bit thin, kind of spice heavy and salty breadstick around the edge. The recipe I would say we nailed in the first few months and its changed very little since we first opened.
How long did it take you to turn a profit?
I would say the thing paid for itself within the first month. We caught on pretty quick. We would show movies on the wall (we still do) and it was just one of those eclectic little things that worked out perfectly for where the Short North was at the time. I don’t think you can ever recreate the magic of something that authentic but it has been interesting to try to turn that experience into a dining experience over the years.
Was there a moment where you just knew that you had something special?
It was one of those things where I would go past Jeni’s in the Short North and I would say that if I ever had a business with people lined up around the block then I’m doing something right. When we started getting people to line up in the evenings, I was like alright, we’re onto something here. It’s funny, I always say that I kind of stumbled into America’s favorite food. There was very little learning curve with pizza by the slice. It wasn’t very hard to convince people to eat pizza. It was kind of a happy accident.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
Freedom is probably the big one. That’s what I love most about this, just having the freedom to come and go as you please, to work on whatever you feel like working on at the time. But the thing that gets me up in the morning is really just creating cool spaces for people in Columbus to enjoy. It might sound a little bit cheesy but that’s what I really love doing – With Oddfellows, with the new Late Night Slices. I think it’s really important to create destinations in the city. I don’t think Columbus has a lot of them and I’ve always said you know, when you pick up your buddy from the airport that has never been to Columbus before, I wanna be on that list of places that you have to show your buddy. I know there’s the Thurman’s, the Schmidt’s and these are representative of Columbus culture and people. I like to have places on that list because I think it’s important to have places that people are proud of. That’s what gets me up in the morning. Making fun spaces that people can enjoy.
Do you feel like you’re there now?
I hope we are. I think at this point we have a little bit of that. I don’t know if Late Night Slice or Oddfellows are on everyone’s list, but I think they’re on some people’s list. The work is never done. There’s always going to be something new and there’s always something cool going on in other cities that can work here in Columbus. I would say the work is never really done.
What does the city of Columbus mean to you and your business?
I like the opportunity. There’s not much that Columbus is saturated with yet – except maybe breweries. There’s a ton of opportunity here. There are so many cool things that are happening in other cities that Columbus hasn’t really touched yet so there’s an ability to be a big fish in a small pond if you just try, go travel and see something cool that you can bring back. I’m sitting here in Louisville right now and my hotel is overlooking a container park with 4-5 containers that are opened up with seating. It’s really cool. Those are things that would be so easy to bring to Columbus. If you go to New York or Chicago or somewhere like that you have to really try to stand out because there are so many cool people doing really cool things but Columbus is just not quite there yet so there’s so much opportunity. Its a very cool, growing city. There’s so much momentum going on in Columbus, so it’s cool to be in the front seat of that and watch it happen.
Are you from Columbus?
I’m from Akron and came to Columbus for college at Ohio State. I went occasionally but didn’t graduate. That was in 2000 so I’ve been here just shy of 20 years.
Did you know pretty instantly that college wasn’t for you?
I can pinpoint the exact moment. I was in this math lecture and there was probably 250 people in this giant lecture hall. I was in some weird math course and couldn’t understand anything the professor was saying. At that point I was like screw this. I was paying out of my pocket and I didn’t have the luxury of my parents having a college fund. I asked myself why I was doing this. I didn’t enjoy the subject matter, I knew I would never really use it, I couldn’t understand my professor and I was sitting there with 300 other people and I knew it wasn’t for me. I was probably a year and a half into it. I had no idea what I wanted to do but I knew this wasn’t it. Luckily I escaped without a mountain of student debt, which is a good thing. I always tell people growing up that college isn’t the only way. There’s a lot of other things to do. Dropping out was a turning point for me and I don’t regret it at all, not even a little.
What’s the #1 piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Get obsessed about it. Businesses start off as projects and I would say don’t go all in but get obsessed. If you find out that you like your side-hustle and can make money off of it, that side-hustle can turn into a business. I tell people all the time that if you have something that you think can be a business go get obsessed about it. If it’s a restaurant, go to the restaurant supply places and just look around and start getting the juices going. You have to get obsessed about an idea and then that project can hopefully be enough that you can start making some scratch on. Then you make enough to start supporting yourself and then you can call it a business.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I wish I knew the value of focus. Up until recently we had a very shotgun approach to growth with Late Night Slice. It just took a while. We’re going to be 10 years old this summer and arguably we should be a little farther along I think. We didn’t have a lot of focus for a long time. We tried a lot of stuff but looking back I wish we would have been a little more focused.
What’s the most challenging part of your business? What keeps you up at night?
I would say the ability to stay relevant. There’s really internal and external factors to that question though. What keeps me up on the external side is how to create the coolest restaurants in Columbus. The inside, it’s like are the employees happy, is our culture good, is the cash flow good? There’s a lot of stuff on the inside. We’re at a point where the business is changing. We’re about 10 years old, we have around 200 employees so it gets a little bit different now and the challenges are different.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I’m unfocused. You couldn’t describe me any better than the head in the clouds idea guy who constantly chases shiny things around. I always say it’s like the Chris Farley, Matt Foley character. If we’re all doing the things that I thought about every day, we’d all be living in a van down by the river. If I ran the world, I’d have 10 ideas, maybe two would be worth doing. I’m glad I have partners and friends here who tell me that the other 8 ideas are garbage.
What’s been your biggest mistake over the years and what did it cost you?
A rather recent one. We bought a restaurant about two years ago that was just such a distraction. It was one of these things where we got distracted in a really big way. This restaurant was not exactly a winner. It never recovered and we were never able to turn it around. I took away that it was an exceptional lesson in focus and I learned not to get distracted because that can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Has there been a tool that’s helped you the most for your business?
Not that’s coming to mind. We’re a very technology-forward company for a pizza shop. One thing we’ve tried to focus on over the last couple of years is producing a lot of video content. It’s kind of weird for a pizza shop to have their own video production studio but we have one in one of our warehouses. we produce tons of video content for internal and external use. Not necessarily a tool but it’s helped a ton with training, entertainment, marketing, everything.
What’s next for Mikey’s?
Walk into our new location at High and Vine if you want to see what’s next for Mikey’s. We just opened that a couple months ago and if I could cut and paste that all over the country, I would. We’re getting ready to open one in Cincinnati in about two months and that one’s awesome. I can’t wait for it.
Who is your best Columbus resource?
I’m trying to think of who we’ve used over the years. This latest restaurant we’ve built is our 4th project. We’re constantly changing our partners just because we haven’t found the dream team yet when it comes architects, builders, and our internal partners too. We switch it up a lot because we’re still trying to find the perfect partners. We’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to do a lot of things ourselves.
Who do you vent to with business problems?
I’m really fortunate to have a couple of really good partners. These partners were friends way before they were business partners. I work with three of my really good buddies. Two of them from high school and one that I met early on when I moved to Columbus. We’re all kind of going through a change right now but for the first 9-10 years we were excellent partners. We still are. We always had that person to vent to because we were partners but buddies before that. It has been really fortunate. Lately we’re in this phase of our lives and careers where we’re trying to increase out network. I’m going through a mentorship program right now trying to put together some mastermind groups. Personal development is really big right now with the four of us so it’s fun to see this next phase developing a little bit.
Where will Mike’s late night be in 10 years from now.
Sold 5 years ago! This is one of those things that is not being built to hand down to my kids. It’s being built to hopefully do something within the next couple years. We’re pretty happy with everything right now. Our plan to grow is slow and steady and we’ll build another location or two. Take a year to make sure everything is running right. Take a look internally then spend another year building another restaurant or two or three and then another year looking into that. We’ll work on systems processing and that’s kind of how we plan to grow over the next couple of years. Sprint and rest, sprint and rest.