A winning recipe

Brian Vallis had all the ingredients for a successful pizzeria, and knew how to pull in the dough.

About 10 years ago, 63-year-old Newfoundlander Brian Vallis dreamed of creating Piatto Pizzeria, a restaurant that would serve world-class Neapolitan pizza with the best wine and coffee. But he also wanted a place inspired by the casual European pubs, cafés and pizzerias where you’d feel comfortable taking anyone for any occasion.

With research on Neapolitan pizza, including its 200-year-old recipe, and fresh from learning how to make his very own, he took his plans for Piatto Pizzeria to banks to get funding, and that’s where he says his accounting background helped. “Most banks [said], ‘We’re not doing restaurants,’” Vallis says. “But when they saw the presentation, it had the markings of someone who understood the financial component of running a restaurant.”

Vallis knew Neapolitan pizzerias had found success in several US cities and was confident the same would happen in Canada. He created a detailed and fully integrated business model, down to how much he planned to sell each day, the average price and more. When the banks thought his plan was too optimistic and asked him to lower his revenue projections by $200,000, he was prepared. “I went on my laptop and within honestly a minute I had it down to where they thought was a reasonable sales level,” Vallis says.

With funding secured and a full house on opening night, the St. John’s, NL, restaurant was a success. The bank took notice. “They came to me and said, ‘Your original business model showed multiple locations, and we just want you to know that we’re so pleased with the way things are going and the relationship we have with you that whenever you’d like to go for your second one, we’d like to finance you,’ ” he says. “You don’t get that very often.”

Today, his family-run pizzeria has five locations across Atlantic Canada, with plans for more to come, and Vallis remains as attentive to Piatto’s finances as he was when he went to the banks with his initial business plan. “I could tell you what our sales goals are in every single restaurant per meal, if I choose to, and most of the time I do choose to,” he says. “[The employees] make fun of me and they say, ‘What are you going to give us for Christmas this year — a new spreadsheet?’”