An Excerpt from the Book:
“Since I was not an expert, I surrounded myself
with people who knew more than me.”
In 2008, Chris Sommers started Pi Pizzeria in the Delmar Loop on “Pi Day” March 14, 2008. In a crowded industry where 80% of restaurants fold within the first five years, he and his partners have pursued an aggressive growth strategy, with nine locations in four cities in that same amount of time. He has participated in numerous philanthropic endeavors and is always looking for ways to give back to the community he grew up in, St. Louis.
I consider myself to be something of an accidental restaurateur – I never really intended to get into this business. But by age of 14, I was busing tables at Candicci’s in Clayton, following a few years later at the Seven Gables Inn – this was owned by Morton Meyer, whose son Danny has had much success with Shake Shack and effectively wrote the book on Hospitality. This was my foundation for a future career in the industry.
After getting my degree in Finance from St. Louis University, I was lured by the promise of Silicon Valley. I worked for Andersen Consulting, which ultimately became Accenture, where we advised tech companies that there was more to a successful business than bits and bytes. I next worked for a small company called Cygent, teaching myself how to code software. Although I was a competent programmer, I grew to appreciate that there were others who lived and breathed this stuff. Cygent followed a familiar arc: they had a quick rise and then hit the skids with the dot-com bust. I was laid off in 2001, only to be hired back by them a few weeks later when they realized they had cut too deeply.
Around that time, I started to pay attention to a new company called Salesforce, which was started by one San Francisco’s true visionaries, Marc Benioff. Marc brought several innovations to the marketplace: he was one of the first who truly understood the Software as a Service business model, offering cloud-based software a decade before it became the standard. Salesforce was bucking all of the trends, and growing when all of the others were imploding.
Of particular interest to me was their integrated philanthropy model based upon a triple 1% rule: 1% of employee time was dedicated to volunteerism; 1% was given to nonprofit institutions who used the software for their day-to-day operations; and 1% of the company’s Pre-IPO stock went to its non-profit foundation. The impact of this became apparent when Salesforce IPO’d in 2004: with a valuation of $1.1 billion, the foundation’s value was substantial at $10.1 million. This makes giving back part of the DNA of the company’s culture, and not just an afterthought. I worked there for about seven years, and it fundamentally changed how I thought about how a business can give back in an impactful way.
At about this time, I fell in love with Little Star Pizzeria which was not too far from where I lived in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco. They had a deep-dish pizza made with a corn meal crust that was unlike any other pizza I had eaten before. I noticed that people raved about the crust, regardless of their origin – New York, Chicago, St. Louis – in places known for pizza, this product stood out
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