…The second thing I wish someone told me is how important communicating with your team is. When we had one or two stores, we could get away with not having flawless communication. When we started to expand and our number of employees kept rising, I knew that was going to have to change. Now we have weekly meetings with our general managers and monthly meetings with our entire management team.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Bogacz, the President/Founder of Caliente Pizza & Draft House. Nick founded Caliente in 2012 and has since expanded to five locations throughout the Greater Pittsburgh Area, winning a multitude of awards along the way. After beginning his journey in the pizza industry as a delivery driver over twenty years ago, Nick has since become a World Pizza Champion, member of the World Pizza Team, and successful author.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Nick! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Growing up with three younger brothers, it was always about sports in my house. There was a youth foundation right by our house, and I would coach my brothers there in whatever sports they were playing, which I think was the beginning of my delve into a leadership role. Any time we celebrated an accomplishment of mine or my brothers’, it was always with pizza. Naturally, when I wasn’t happy with my tips from working at the car wash, I decided to start delivering pizzas.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
When I first started working in the pizza kitchen, I almost immediately fell in love with the team atmosphere. The fast-paced atmosphere was exciting to me, and I felt like I was really good at it. Being in the kitchen reminded me of being on a sports team — everyone had to be in-sync and flow together to achieve a result. At that point, I decided that if pizza is what I’m good at, and I enjoy doing it, then that’s what I was going to do for a career.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Pizza restaurants have been a proven process for a long time, so I knew I wasn’t going to be reinventing the wheel. The biggest thing for me was my mindset towards it, I was not going to allow myself to fail. I still hold that philosophy to this day, no matter how big or small a task. If I set my mind to it, I know I can accomplish it. After I decided to take the chance of running my own restaurant, I knew that I was never going to work for anybody ever again.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Where there’s no risk, there’s no reward. You have to be willing to bet on yourself if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur. There are going to be people that try to put you down or tell you to “get a real job”, but you have to be able to block them out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take constructive criticism or try to learn everything you can about your business and/or your weaknesses, but you have to have a clear direction and be willing to take the risk.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Like many industries, there are so many layers to the pizza business. There is always something more I can learn about, and that’s what keeps it fresh and fun for me. I have such a passion for what I do, learning new things and thinking about what my next business move will be is exciting and something I look forward to.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
My favorite part is meeting people and developing relationships that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve met a lot of great people across the country and the world. It can get exhausting, but I try to always appreciate the business and the opportunity I’ve been given. Most importantly, you can’t work every single day of the year and never reflect on your accomplishments. It makes me think about one of my favorite quotes: “relaxation breeds inspiration.”
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
As much as I love pizza, I never thought I would be selling craft beer. When I realized how much of a niche there is for it, I wanted to become a craft beer destination, and so that’s what I did. I made a point to learn as much as I could about it, and eventually people coming in for craft beer ended up helping the pizza sales. You always have to be able to pivot, especially in the food and beverage industry.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
When I first started Caliente, I had a business partner who had some personal issues that were taking a toll on me and the business. After one particularly tough day with him, I went home and told my wife that I wasn’t sure if Caliente would be in my future. However, I soon realized that one of us had to go, and it wasn’t going to be me. Sometimes you have to be able to take command of a situation and ultimately, I split with my then business partner.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
After our World Championship win at the Las Vegas International Pizza Expo in 2018, I was invited to become a part of the World Pizza Champions team. Putting on my World Pizza Champion jacket for the first time is something I’ll never forget.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not so much funny, but it goes back to the business partner I mentioned — you can’t dwell on mistakes. If something happens, you have to be able to take it in stride and carry on. I decided I could either complain and feel sorry for myself about my then-partner, or I could make the decision that he had to go and carry on with the business.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Creating opportunities for my employees that I never had is what inspires me. When I first started Caliente, I defined success for myself when I could pay for my kids’ college, buy a bigger house, and drive a car from this century. Now, I’ll consider myself successful when every one of my employees can do that. My grandfather always told me “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you do it the best you can.”
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My wife and I have always wanted to give back. We’ve done giant food drives, we’ll give out Christmas donations to families in need, anything we can do to help out our local community. This year for National Pizza Party Day, we delivered 40 pizzas to local firehouses for free to let them know we appreciate everything they do.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
I attended an event that Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, was holding a few years before I started Caliente. Afterwards, I asked him if he had any advice for me on starting a pizza business. The first and only thing he said before walking away: “Don’t ever have a partner.” Fast forward a few years later, and I realized I should have listened to him.
The second is how important communicating with your team is. When we had one or two stores, we could get away with not having flawless communication. When we started to expand and our number of employees kept rising, I knew that was going to have to change. Now we have weekly meetings with our general managers and monthly meetings with our entire management team.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want people to believe that they can do anything that they want to do. There are a lot of people out there that think they have to get a college education. If you have a dream, follow that little voice in your head and go for it. Don’t listen to what the rest of the world has to say. There will always be preconceived notions on how things should be done, but no two paths are ever the same.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
When you set out to accomplish a huge goal, it can be daunting. The sheer magnitude of it can make you hesitate, but you have to take it one step at a time. Everything I’ve done in my business, whether it’s writing a marketing plan, building a team, or writing my book, I’ve always taken it one step at a time. It’s the only way to stay sane.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Larry King — he’s interviewed anybody and everybody and has heard insights from thousands of people he’s talked to. I would love to dive into his mind and see what kind of gems he’s holding in there.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke