Families and communities will become stronger. We are truly all in this together. When you go through traumatic experiences, it can only strengthen your bond with those around you. Our country is so divided, but my hope is that this will begin to bring us together as it should.
We are all realizing what’s important. Family, friends, health, and spirit. The other superficial stuff we were all obsessed with isn’t important anymore. That’s pretty amazing.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Collier.
Katie Collier of Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria is a successful, self-made chef and restaurateur. Opening her first restaurant in 2013 with the help of a Kickstarter, today Katie owns two restaurants and a national frozen pizza delivery service. Collier’s modern interpretation of regional Italian cuisine, combined with her business acumen, has earned her several awards including Chef of the Year five times, and most recently one of St. Louis’ Most Influential Business Women.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I started working in the St. Louis restaurant business at 15 when I dropped out of high school. Restaurants became my formal education, both in life and business. In my early 20s, I had a wonderful opportunity to go live with my mother in Florence, Italy, who was teaching for Washington University. There I fell in love with the art of food and hospitality. The Italian food culture surrounding regional ingredients, recipes with stories, and a laissez-faire attitude inspired a passion in me to return to St. Louis and open a restaurant that encapsulated what I learned and felt while eating in Italy. I opened my first little pizzeria at 24, and then Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria at 30 with my husband Ted after a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds and awareness. We now have two locations that focus on unique house-made pastas and wood-fired pizzas, along with a new successful frozen pizza business that ships across the country.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
The most interesting story that has happened to me since starting my business would be our current pandemic story. The initial shutdown was so shocking and the conditions to do business so catastrophic that we were forced to pivot quickly or shut down completely. How to serve people without dining rooms, supply chain issues, and a lot of fear and uncertainty were the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced. We quickly leveraged our experiences from a failed meal kit company (VERO Pasto) we shuttered just one year prior. Vero was our Italian answer to Blue Apron. We shipped the raw ingredients and recipe cards of our best dishes in subscription boxes across the country. Shipping fresh, perishable ingredients with lengthy and complicated recipes across the country proved NOT to be our best business model. We used what we learned from that failure to quickly pivot our dine-in restaurant to a straight-forward, back-to-basics frozen pizza business. We didn’t have the luxury to be fancy or push any boundaries. Just make great pizza, freeze it, and ship it. We knew how to package and ship the hardest thing you can — fresh food. Frozen would be a piece of cake.
When the government shut down dining rooms, we prototyped our first frozen pizza in a few days, threw together a simple and cost-effective e-commerce site with our old web developer from the VERO days, and started selling frozen pizzas. We turned our dining rooms into an assembly line, turned our furloughed servers and bartenders into frozen pizza delivery drivers and restaurant curbside servers, and used all of our old packaging, freezers, and equipment from our failed meal kit company with old logos and everything to save money. Extreme teamwork and bootstrapping. The day I posted frozen pizzas for sale on my social media pages, we sold out. In the first eight weeks, we sold over 40,000 frozen pizzas. This quick save of the restaurant and everyone’s jobs sparked incredible hope and made our team the strongest and most resilient it has ever been. While we still have very hard days with the restrictions that this pandemic places on restaurants, we now know that we can and will make it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our frozen pizza company is so exciting right now. The product just keeps getting better and better as we learn more about frozen, and we keep reaching more people. My inbox is full every day with people from all over the country reaching out to tell me how much they love the product and how excited they are when their box of pizzas arrive. I think it’s comforting for people who have been stuck at home to have a hand-stretched pizza from a restaurant they love. Not only is this project creating comfort for our guests, but it’s also saving jobs and giving back to our community, just like our restaurant model. Over the last six years, our restaurants have donated 100% of profits one Tuesday a month to local needy charities. We followed the giveback model recently with our frozen pizzas after hearing about long lines at food banks due to so many people out of work. We decided to start donating a frozen pizza with every order sold to a rotating food bank. To date, we have donated over 250,000 dollars to local charities through our restaurants Giveback Tuesdays and now over 1,000 frozen pizzas to local food banks.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That’s a really tough question. To pick just one person is not something I feel comfortable doing. Too many great people have helped me along the way including EVERYONE that has ever worked with me. I have a gifted husband who single-handily raised all of the money for all of our restaurants and projects. I have a mother who keeps everything running smoothly and reminds me to stay on course. I have a brother who teaches me how to be a better leader, and a talented group of chefs and managers that can do things I can’t. I have a father that humbles me when I think I’m special and reminds me to be myself. That’s just a start and as narrow as I can answer that question.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
To start, I work with almost my entire family, so if the business goes down we are all out of work. That’s pretty unique, and really real right now with so many restaurants closing and record-high unemployment. I think it’s a great reminder just how much a job can affect an entire family. We don’t just have 150 employees — we have 150 families. Our purpose to save the restaurants really is about family. Then we have the health and childcare challenges. I have a two-year-old, my brother has two children, our staff have children, and we all have high-risk people we live and work with. That creates more unique challenges. How do you work, especially as a mother with no childcare, and how do you keep the vulnerable safe while running a business? These are all big deals. These aren’t vain or superficial issues, and they all kind of contradict each other. How do you keep people who can’t work working? I think being a woman, and specifically a mom, brings extra compassion and love to an otherwise cold reality. I understand how hard and how necessary it is to work right now because I’m living it. It’s all about leeway and support. It’s the only way we will all make it through collectively.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We knew, given the above challenges, people were going to need help. We started an emergency employee fund when the shutdown started. All bulk, fresh pasta and sauce sales were donated to this fund, and then my husband and I matched it. We raised almost 20,000 dollars. This is used when someone on our team can’t work and needs support. We also understand that some people need a break. The stress takes its toll even on the toughest. If you need a break, take it, and let us know how we can help. Your job won’t be jeopardized. We’ve had many people on our team take advantage of the above. We’ve transitioned some people to work from home or change roles to better suit their schedules with no childcare or high-risk issues.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge as a woman is unequivocally childcare. There is no option for childcare right now for me. I have to work from home. I make it work during that golden nap hour and when she goes to bed. My husband helps a lot if there is a meeting or project that I have to be fully present for. I try not to let work or stress interfere with time spent with my daughter. I do my best to separate the two, but there are slip-ups, and she says, “No more phone, Mommy.” Luckily she’s only two, so preschool, socialization, and friends aren’t absolutely necessary yet. Right now she just needs me. That’s what I remind myself of when I worry about how this is affecting her. I feel for older kids who are missing out on so much while dealing with the stress they feel from parents.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’ve really learned to lean on my team. Luckily, I had a headstart with this while pregnant and caring for a baby. If I can’t work the way I used to, then I have to let them do the job. I’ve become a lot better at delegation and the art of letting go. It’s actually made me a better leader, mother, thinker, and entrepreneur — it has made my team better, too. They have more room to flourish. It’s one of the many silver linings of this pandemic.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
My number one priority has been getting myself and my daughter on the same schedule to create balance, structure, and help with productivity. With all of the uncertainty, kids need some semblance of structure and balance, and you need time to do your work. Create a schedule where there is family time when you are present, work time that coordinates with nap or quiet time, and if you are lucky enough, a little “me time” so you get a break to recharge. Secondly, get outside and eat healthily. Add diet, nature, and exercise into your routine. You and your kids need time outside and away from devices every single day. That vitamin D will save you. It has helped me immensely with mood and productivity. Don’t underestimate your diet and exercise. For myself, I felt like too much sugar and junk food created brain fog and low energy. Staying healthy and sharp is so important when stress and anxiety want to take you down. Finally, ask for help and/or learn to delegate. You can’t do everything anymore. You will suffer, your work will suffer, and most importantly, your kids will suffer. If someone else can do it, learn how to ask for help or delegate. If it doesn’t need to be done, learn to let it go for another day and time.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
As I mentioned above, create a schedule that promotes balance and normalcy, and get outside every single day, rain or shine. When this pandemic started, I was stuck in a rut of too much social media, news and TV, eating poorly, and no exercise. I was frozen with anxiety and fear, and my lifestyle reflected that. When I decided enough was enough, I completely changed my diet, started exercising or walking twice a day, started reading every single day, and I actually became more productive and felt better. Now I’m four months in on a journey of self-improvement and self-discovery. It’s amazing how some basic structure and a healthy lifestyle can change your mind and spirit to help get you through the tough times.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
#1: You’re going to be a stronger/wiser and probably a truly happier person when this is over. That’s just a fact of life. Pain is a great teacher and some say the only one. It humbles you and puts everything into perspective. At least it is for me and a lot of people I know. Usually this happens individually during life’s struggles. The unique thing about a pandemic or depression is it happens collectively, hence the greatest generation. So you won’t just be stronger — we all will be stronger together.
#2: There is going to be a lot of great innovation and invention during this time. Necessity is the mother of all invention. When times get tough and the world changes so quickly, people and businesses have to pivot and reinvent themselves to survive. There will be some amazing discoveries and innovations during this time.
#3: Families and communities will become stronger. We are truly all in this together. When you go through traumatic experiences, it can only strengthen your bond with those around you. Our country is so divided, but my hope is that this will begin to bring us together as it should.
#4: We are all realizing what’s important. Family, friends, health, and spirit. The other superficial stuff we were all obsessed with isn’t important anymore. That’s pretty amazing.
#5: Opportunities will arise that you may have never seen or been available to receive before the pandemic. Now you’ll be ready.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
If you have friends or family who are struggling, try not to preach. Listen and lead by example, not promotion. Do your best to be a safe and hopeful place for them to turn to when they want help or want to talk. Show empathy and share your vulnerable experiences. We all just need someone who will listen and understand because they’ve been there. This is what worked for me when I was struggling, so I’m passing it on.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The undoing is part of the remaking.” — Richard Rohr
A hopeful reminder for me when times are tough and I’m in the middle of the “undoing.” It also happens to be true every single time.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook @katiespizzaandpasta, Twitter @KatiePizzaPasta, and LinkedIn/YouTube by searching Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria. Our website is www.katiespizzaandpasta.com and our frozen pizza website is www.katiespizza.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!