February 08, 2023

#090: Call Your Mother Deli – Founder Andrew Dana

Hosted by Fran Racioppi

Call Your Mother! Probably one of the most common phrases many of us have heard or thought about sometime in our lives. It’s also one of the fast-growing delis in America and one of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants In America. 

Fran Racioppi sits down with Founder Andrew Dana to discuss his journey from community banking and window sales to purchasing a pizza oven and a truck on Ebay. Today, Timber Pizza is Andrew’s other Bon Appetit ranked restaurant. 

They cover the ups and downs of what it feels like to follow your dreams and forge your own path. They talk about the risks entrepreneurs take to develop their product, their team and their value. And they also share how that one event, the one customer, the one meeting can be the single point in time that launches our whole plan and puts us on the map. 

Visit Call Your Mother Deli and Timber Pizza the next time you’re in DC. Find them both on Instagram at callyourmotherdeli and timberpizzaco. Learn more about their story at callyourmotherdeli.com and timberpizza.com

Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast here


 

About Andrew Dana

TJP 90 | Restaurant BusinessOwner & Chief Dough Boi at Timber Pizza Company, Call Your Mother (A Jew-ish Deli), Turu’s, and Ballston Service Station

 

 

 

 

Call Your Mother Deli – Founder Andrew Dana

Call Your Mother is one of the most common phrases many of us have ever heard or thought about sometime in our lives. It’s also one of the fastest-growing delis in America and one of Bon Appetit’s 50 best new restaurants in America. For this episode, I took a break from my three-day recording marathon in Washington DC to sit down with Andrew Dana, founder of Call Your Mother, better known as Chef Dough Boi. 

Andrew grew up thinking he only had a few choices in life, to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a businessman. He became a window salesman and he went to business school until one day he realized his late-night pizza binges were simply market research on his true calling. He bought an old Chevy pickup truck and a pizza oven. He started showing up wherever people would have. Today, Timber Pizza is Andrew’s other Bon Appetit-ranked restaurant.TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

Andrew and I sit out at the bar during prep time at Timber to cover his entrepreneurial journey, the ups and downs, and what it feels like to follow your dreams and forge your own path. We talk about the risks entrepreneurs take to develop their product, their team, and their value. We also commiserate around the feeling that we are always one event, one customer, and one meeting from that single point in time that launches the whole plan that puts us on the map.

A couple of pizzas led Andrew to his first investor, his head chef turned business partner and turned wife. The restaurant business is competitive and COVID rocked the industry to its core. Andrew shares the decisions small business owners have to make in difficult times. He was prepared to take the bank account to zero to protect his employees and his team.

With seven Call Your Mother locations in DC and more coming to Denver, the line around the block remains for the Thunderbird. I say get it with spicy honey. It changed my life. Visit Call Your Mother Deli and Timber Pizza the next time you are in DC. Find them both on Instagram at @CallYourMotherDeli and @TimberPizzaCo. Learn more about their story at CallYourMotherDeli.com and TimberPizza.com. Take a listen to my conversation with Andrew on your favorite platform. Watch the full video version from the bar on YouTube. Subscribe to us and follow @JedburghPodcast on all social media and check out our website, JedburghPodcast.com.

Andrew, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me.

This is the best time of being in a restaurant. I honestly believe that we are here in Timber. I so appreciate you coming in early and meeting us here. The tagline of the show is how you prepare today determines success tomorrow. This time of day for the restaurant, although, it’s not bringing in any revenue right now. If you don’t do it, you don’t get any revenue.

A lot of restaurants do a lot of shortcuts and buy stuff already prepared off trucks. We are making everything from scratch here. It’s 8:00 AM something right now and we’re getting ready for dinner service. This is where the magic happens.

We have been watching it here at Timber. Before we came, we stopped by Call Your Mother, which is the bagel and deli that you have. We are going to talk about both of these, but I had the Thunderbird. You were watching me eat it as I always said.

I’m jealous. I was like, “Where’s mine?”TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

It was awesome.

Thank you.

The maple flavor is what absolutely makes it.

Maple, salt, and pepper bagel. I don’t know anybody else who’s doing that.

The pizza truck’s outside too, and when we were talking about setting up this episode, we said, “Let’s do it in the pizza truck,” but it’s 35 degrees outside.

I don’t have a thick enough jacket for that.

I don’t either, but we are going to go out there and we are checking out the pizza truck. Both Timber and Call Your Mother have been on Bon Appetit’s list of the 50 new best restaurants in America. You’ve expanded Call Your Mother into seven locations now in DC. You are going to Denver soon. You’ve got a couple of new initiatives with a few more restaurants in DC that we are going to talk about. You started a peanut butter brand in eCommerce. The president came. President Biden stopped by Call Your Mother. Not bad for a guy who ten years ago had no experience in the restaurant industry.

We have been on a little bit of a heater. The dream was literally to get out from behind my desk job and make pizza with my hands, and that’s where the dream ended, and then we accomplished that dream. We were like, “What’s next?” This thing is taken on a life of its own. We have been very blessed and very lucky thus far.

Let’s start with the initial idea. Your dad is an attorney and you felt that you had to take this traditional route. I got to be a lawyer, a doctor, or a businessman. I’m going to challenge you on the businessman piece because this is certainly a business that you’ve built. It doesn’t matter if you have 1 restaurant or 30, you are definitely a businessman. You said, “I’m going to go into marketing, but I want to open a pizza shop.” Talk to me about being at Fordham and the research that you were doing unbeknownst to you that would lead you into the pizza industry.TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

I lived in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn and I was within walking distance of this pizzeria called Localis which is now world-renowned and I was there. It was the first year it was open, so it hadn’t totally taken off and this pizza was insane. The first time I went, I had seven slices and I was like, “This is bonkers.”

I can’t control myself with pizza.

What are the animals that’ll eat until they die and the food is gone? That’s how I am at Localis. I fell in love with it and I fell in love with the vibe. There are all other great pizzerias in Brooklyn. I was eating at tons of pizza places and bagel places. The real a-ha moment for me was learning about the guy who opened Localis and he had zero pizza-making experience. He was making the best pizza I ever had. He figured it out, and I had this moment where I was like, “It’s not rocket science.” At the end of the day, it’s dough, sauce, and cheese. If you figure those things out, it can be good enough.

Italian has been doing it for centuries.

I was still way too scared to start the business for a couple of years, but I at least had this moment where I was like, “I don’t have to go to culinary school to figure out how to make pizza. It’s not rocket science.” For my two years in New York, I probably went to Localis 75 times in two years. I was doing my market research while I was in grad school.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“I at least had this moment where I was like, ok I don’t have to go to culinary school to figure out how to make pizza. It’s not rocket science.”

What makes a good pizza?

It’s not one thing. It’s dough, sauce, and cheese, and they have to sing together. It’s like a good band where they all have to complement each other. There are different ways they can complement each other. I personally like a slightly crispier pizza like classic Neapolitan pizza that is cooked over 900 degrees in 90 seconds, very soft and chewy.

It was good. There’s a time and place for that. I like it to be a little crispier. I like a very fresh sauce. Some people overcook their sauce and overseason it. I like it like a fresh bright sauce. For the cheese, you need the fatty mozzarella, but I love a sharp provolone in there too to cut through some of the fat. If you get those three things to sing together, you are cooking with gas.

I have never heard it explained like that.

I don’t know if I have ever explained it like that before. That just came to me.

As you are explaining that, I’m watching behind you. Everybody is prepping it, and now I’m thinking when we get done with this, I think we got to make that.

Let’s do it. It’s already fired up back here.

You decide this is what you want to do, and now it’s a matter of trying to figure out, “How do I get into the industry and where do I start?” An initial thought is, “Let’s get into brick-and-mortar,” but then you realize pretty quickly that might not be the best way to begin.TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

I was sitting at my job. I was sitting at a desk.

Selling windows at this point.

This was post-windows. I was now selling financial literacy programs to community banks.

In business school, I was at Merrill Lynch, so I feel it.

I was selling to community banks in western New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts. I was on a plane and I was like, “This can’t be life.” I was sitting at a desk and I was like, “I got to open a pizza restaurant.” I literally knew nothing. I remember that I called some real estate agents and I went and toured some buildings. They were asking me questions that not only did I not know the answers to but I also didn’t even know what the questions meant. I was like, “What the fuck are they talking about?”

I left and I was like, “I don’t think I’m ready for that. What’s a way I could start this in a more bite-sized chunk that I can chew?” I remember when I lived in Brooklyn, every Saturday there was a Brooklyn flea market and there was a mobile woodfire pizza oven and there was selling pizza. I was like, “That’s something I could like wrap my head around.”

You just have to focus on making great pizza and giving great service, and you can figure out the peripheral stuff later. Site on scene one night in February, my buddy who worked at EVERFI with me and I were like, “Let’s buy a pizza oven and we’ll figure it out.” We bought this pizza oven sight unseen. We bought this 67 Chevy site unseen for $7,500 off eBay.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“Let’s just buy a pizza oven and we’ll figure it out.”

I bought a World War II truck on eBay. It’s pretty much the same.

You can’t go wrong on eBay. It’s undefeated. The pizza oven people were like, “The oven will be ready in three months.” We had three months to be like, “How do you start a business? How do you make pizza?” Every day we hit the ground running and figured it out.

Once you get it up and going, you get everything and you start hitting these different farmer’s markets. You had a great quote that I want to bring up here and it was the most bootstrap grassroots thing of all time, “Our marketing was showing up anywhere and having an insanely positive attitude like pumping great music and trying to make great pizza.” That’s a fire quote.

Did I say that? I love that.

Why was that the attitude and why did that begin to put this train in motion and put a spark behind it?

Part of it was we thought we were making good pizza, but we are also two desk job jabronis who didn’t totally know what we were doing in the culinary world yet. We were like what we can’t do culinary-wise, we can make up for with great service, personalities, and a fun time.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“We were just relentless in showing up. I truly believe if you show up enough, good things start to happen. You make your own luck.”

You call it grit too.

We went out there and we are like, “We are going to win people over with our personalities and pure positive attitude. We are going to make good pizza that’s going to get better every day. We are going to like outwork everybody else.” I’m like, “If somebody would have us, if they said, ‘Are you sure you can come to sell pizza?’” We didn’t even ask a second question. We are like, “We’ll be there.” This led us to some heinous events. We were relentless in showing up. I truly believe if you show up enough, good things start to happen. You make your own luck.

A good example is we went and sold at a DC brewery in the middle of winter and the middle of nowhere. We sold three pizzas, but this guy came out wasted. He was like, “I’m an investor. I was like, “I’m sure you are.” He gave me his card and I was like, “Okay. Have a good one,” but I followed up. He ended up investing $50,000, which helped us open this restaurant. It’s this thing where it’s like, “If you relentlessly show up and relentlessly have a good attitude and try to be your best version of yourself every single day, eventually good things start to happen.

If you relentlessly show up every day with a positive attitude and try to be the best version of yourself all the time, eventually good things will start to happen. Share on X

It’s creating opportunities. People ask me all the time, “What do you have to do?” Everyone thinks there’s some trick. “What’s the trick? How did you get there?” You get there because of exactly what you said. You wake up every day and you do the best job that you possibly can in that 24-hour period, and then you wake up the next day with the exact same attitude, and you have to get out there and create opportunities for yourself.

Nobody is coming to your door unless you are super lucky. Luck doesn’t get you anywhere. You have to go and find ways to meet people. What you said is amazing because I feel like those small things that everyone is going to look at and tell you, “That was a waste of time. You sold three pizzas.” No, it’s not about selling the three pizzas. It’s about the relationship I built with this person who now helped me achieve this.

I tell people all the time that the most important thing is launching. There are so many people waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect business plan, and financing. Things can always get better. If you never launch, you’ll never be able to figure this stuff out on the fly. Good things won’t start to happen. It’s like don’t have failure to launch, start, and then just run through every freaking wall there is.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“Don’t have failure to launch. Start. And then just run through every fricken wall that there is.”

I’m quoting that in the promos. I like that one. We talk on the show about the nine characteristics of elite performance used by special operations commands. I told you that it wasn’t going to be a test question, but I might throw a couple of them. Drive, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, curiosity, team ability, effective intelligence, and emotional strength.

I give you these because this is what special operations use to recruit, assess, and develop their talent. Elite performers, you are going to have all of them but not necessarily at one time. I throw those out there. I can show you the list if you need it. When you look back on your journey, what were those core characteristics that you think got you up every day to continue this mission even when you sold 2 or 3 pizzas that day? You don’t have to use these ones.

The one that jumps out to me there is humility and a couple of different aspects. We now have almost 300 employees and we still act like they are doing us a favor. We are not doing them a favor. You have to have this humility that people can go work anywhere and people can go do anything. If they are working for you, you need to earn that every single day.

That’s the same attitude we had towards our product and our service. Even now, some people are like, “When did you realize you made it?” I’m like, “I still don’t think I have made it.” Every day we wake up and we are like, “This could go away. We are still not good enough. The product still needs to get better. The service still needs to get better.” It’s this attitude that every day you need to get better and we haven’t made it. I think that’s what keeps us on our Ps and Qs and able to maintain our service and our quality. That’s the one that jumps out to me.

That’s super important. There are a lot of quotes around it in leadership. I call it noise. When I work with athletes, I consistently tell them, “At the division or professional level, you are there. You got to seat at the table.” If you are going home at the end of the day and you are not asking yourself, “What more can I do?” You are not going to win. You might do well. You’ll do okay and you’ll look back and say, “I had a decent career and I did this.” If you want to look back and say, “I won.” The people who do that are the ones who leave every day and say, “There’s something else I need to be doing right now,” and then they go do it.TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

There is no business that is more relentless than restaurants. You are open every single day. You are only as good as your last service. How many times have you seen a Yelp review where it’s like, “This was my favorite Chinese restaurant. I came every week. The last time I came, it sucked. One star. I’m never coming back.” You are truly only as good as your last service. There’s no unplugging for the weekend and I will get back to it Monday in a restaurant. You got to bring it every single day. Every single day, you got to look for ways to get better. The second you start to be like, “We are awesome. “We are great, is the second it starts to go away.

Can I ask about Dani? The other opportunity that was created through the pizza truck was when you were introduced to your now wife. This young woman comes up and asks you if she can help.

It’s something like that. We met at the farmer’s market. We were both trying to buy eggs and there was one cart of eggs left so we decided to split it. That’s a true story, which sounds like some made-up bullshit.

The best stories are always like this where it’s, “No shit there, I was minding my business.”

She came back up to us and said, “If you need part-time help while I’m waiting for my fine dining job to start.” We were like, “Do you want to work for us? Truly? At this point, we had begged our friends to work for us and that was it. We were like, “Okay.” The first day she came and worked for us, it was an event around the corner here before we opened this restaurant. It was so apparent and so quickly. She brought a level of expertise and culinary know-how that we totally lacked. Our jaws were on the floor the first day. We were like, “This is our missing piece.”

In college, I had a championship intramural basketball team and I’m pretty good at basketball. I was great at recruiting. Nobody else is recruiting for intramural basketball, but I did four-time champs. I started recruiting her on day two. I was like, “Forget that fine dining job. This is where the future is.” She was like, “I didn’t go to CIA at Hyde Park for two years to sling pizzas with you dummies.” I was relentless and tried to show her what this could be, and then eventually offered her equity and brought her into the fold. Nobody has ever worked harder than Dani. Her work ethic and her attention to detail were insane. We would not be where we are now if we hadn’t met her. My wife and I were going to have a baby.

It’s all going to change again for you when you have the baby.

There are a couple of moments. Meeting her and the Bon Appetit stuff are these couple of pivotal moments where you’re like, “I can see where the path changed ways.” It’s been awesome bringing her in and helping because I was cooking and coming up with the recipes before her. My strong suit is the marketing, branding, and the front of house fun stuff. It allowed us to own the stuff we were good at.

She brought a level of consistency like our pizza recipe before she came was like Two Yellow Scoops because the tablespoons we had bought were yellow. She was like, “What the hell is Yellow Scoops? What if you lose these? Are you going out and making the pizza?” I was like, “We can’t lose those scoops.” She came in and changed the game and made everything way more consistent

You said there are two loves of your life growing up. One was pizza and that brought you into the pizza business. The other one was bagels. What prompted this shift? As Timber is growing and it’s becoming an established brand, now you set your eyes on what becomes Call Your Mother in the bagel business. How come?

One of our favorite parts is the creative aspect. It’s creating a menu, designing an interior space, building a whole brand, and all that. We love that. We love starting from a blank slate and saying, “What can we create?” Part of it was like, “Did we get lucky with Timber or is this something we are good at?” We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it again. We were like, “Let’s go challenge ourselves to see if we can create another brand and show that we weren’t a one-hit-wonder.

The idea of being able to start from scratch, design an interior, build a new menu, and all that stuff was so attractive. For the first year and a half of Timber, we worked every single service. One of us made literally every single pizza for a year and a half. Finally, we were able to take a slight step back and be like, “What’s the next challenge?” We met the right guy who wanted to back us and become our partner, and bada bing bada boom.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“We’re gonna pay you all as much as we can until the bank account goes to zero.”

I like your research stories because we talked about your research here for Timber. When you talk about having to figure out the bagel business. You spend time in New York City, South Florida, and even California. You are flying bagels from Canada. What did that allow you to understand and why did you truly like the pizza business, and accept that in order to jump into this, I have to learn? We talked about curiosity. Why was that so important to be successful right off the bat and maybe not have to learn some of those lessons that you had to learn in Timber?

In order to try and be the best you have to learn from the best. Who makes better bagels than New York City, Montreal style? Tons of people retire to South Florida and they make great Jewish deli products down there. You have to learn from the best to be the best. Dani is from Argentina. She did not grow up in a bagel culture. She did not grow up with any Jewish deli culture. It was fun starting with her from a blank slate. We learned that and it’s why we do fun rifts and twists that we do. We’re going to all these places. We learned that a lot of them are competing with nostalgia, childhood, and your grandmother’s cooking. You are going to lose that battle every single time.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“In order to try and be the best, you have to learn from the best.”

My grandmother probably wasn’t that good of a cook, but picturing her matzo ball soup, I’m like, “It was the best. No matter what I try now, it’s not as good as Cheryl’s.” Instead of playing this game where we are competing with nostalgia, we were like, “Let’s play a different game. Let’s not compete with the classic old-school delis that people remember from their childhood. Let’s do something different.” There was an aspect of it that was a business idea. Part of it was that Dani is from Argentina so she didn’t know what traditional bagel toppings were. She was like, “Let’s do a Za’atar bagel.” I’m like, “That sounds cool. Let’s do that.”

What’s a Za’atar bagel?

It’s this Middle Eastern spice blend that I’d never seen on a bagel before us. She was like, “You put different seasonings and seeds on bagels. Why wouldn’t this delicious seasoning seed mix work?” It does and it’s great. It’s one of our best-selling bagels. It was cool to go to all these old-school delis to see what the classics were, and then it helped us grow into our own creative journey.

A big part of marketing is the creative aspect. You brought up that and brought Dani in. You said everyone got to focus on their strengths, which are so important in building sustainable organizations. We see it a lot in sports but even in businesses too where leaders come in and there are two schools of thought.

One is, “Let’s talk about your weaknesses, and let’s invest a whole bunch of time, money, and all this stuff and make you better at what you are not good at.” There’s what I call more of the Bill Belichick way, which is, “You are good at this and you are going to do that one thing, and when it’s 3rd down and 30 you are coming in. The rest of the time, have a soda on the bench,” but that allowed you to do this.

The marketing and branding behind Call Your Mother really stand out. I was driving up the road and I didn’t see Craig over there standing on the corner waving me down. I was fixated on the color scheme and the branding. Can you talk about the branding behind it? I also know you had some challenges getting some of that branding and the color schemes approved in different areas of DC because they got rules and stuff, which is generally for everybody else in my mind that affected you.

It all starts with why I was attracted to the restaurant industry. In grad school, I was looking at sports marketing and what I didn’t like about it was so much of it isn’t real. It’s fluff. It’s storytelling and not based on reality. What I love so much about the restaurant industry is either the food and the service are good enough to come back or it’s not. Our marketing and what we wanted to do has always been based on authenticity and realness. We have tried to create fun brands that we would want to go to. With Timber, from the get-go, I want this to feel like you are at a summer camp in Vermont. It’s super woodsy and old-school.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“Either the food and the service is good enough to come back, or it’s not.”

For Call Your mother, before we even had the name or the menu, I was like, “I know I want this to be like Miami Vice like the ’80s. Bright fix of color and everything else will fall in line. We are not doing anything overly creative or cutting-edge with our marketing and our Instagram. Every day, we try and be our best authentic versions of ourselves and be fun, and show people who we are. Thank God, people like who we are so far. The one word that I always go back to is authenticity, and people can sniff that out from a mile away.

Talk to me about the name and where it comes from.

We had a vision of what we wanted the brand to be. We wanted it to be fun and lighthearted. Many Jewish delis are the same. There are so many industries where everybody plays from the same playbook. You go to a Jewish deli and there’s the subway tile. It’s a last name or it’s your grandfather’s name. It’s all the same shit.

From the get-go, we want this to be different, fun, and bright. We struggle with the name. Some of the names we’re contemplating are so bad, but we knew we weren’t going to stop until it was perfect. One day I was at a dinner with my friends and I was like, “What’s some funny stuff like our Jewish grandmothers or our mothers would have yelled at us?” Somebody was like, “You should eat something. Put some meat on your bones.” My friend’s sister yelled, “Call your mother.” A light bulb went off and I was like, “That’s it.” It’s incredible because it’s a Jewish grandmother thing to say. It’s fun and memorable, but it’s something that all cultures get. My Argentinian wife’s mother loves it. It spans all cultures while it’s also a very Jewish thing.

One of the big decisions that you’ve made in the establishment of your restaurants is buying local. There are massive food distributors out there. There’s a need and a place for them, but you’ve put a lot of focus especially when we were talking about the chicken sausage and eggs. You are buying 2,500 eggs. There’s an entire chicken farm that’s making eggs for you. Why is buying locally so important?

I truly believe it tastes better. These happy chickens that are roaming the fields and eating a super healthy diet, I truly believe they make a better egg. That’s one hard stop. The bacon we get from this local farm is the best bacon I have ever had in the world. That’s one. You never skimp on quality and then supporting your local economy, it’s all boats rise with the tide. We are using this great local farm, then they tell people, “Call Your Mother is using our great bacon that you like,” and it starts to feed off of each other, and so we are all rising together. Logan Sausages whom you tried their chicken sausage this morning is a great local sausage company.

I’m a customer for life.

The sausage is freaking incredible, and then people love Logan Sausage. It’s like, “Call Your Mother is using it. Let’s go to Call Your Mother.” Somebody goes to Call Your Mother, “I love that sausage. Where’s that from?” “It’s Logan Sausage,” and so we all rise together. We all support each other. It becomes more of a team sport, which is the way to succeed.

COVID crushed so much of the industry. At that point, you grew about 150 people during COVID. You said you are at 300 people now. You’ve added five locations. You said at the outset of COVID that you were prepared to take the bank account to zero. What did that mean?

It was the early times of COVID and you saw people running for shelter and protecting themselves and that was it. It was a time when people’s true colors started to shine. We’d been preaching for years that we are a family and we are going to grow together. I tell people, “Don’t look at this as just a restaurant. Look at this as a startup and we can build careers here together.” The prep ladies that you see here have been with us for five years.

COVID was the time when people's true colors started to shine. Share on X

When I was watching other companies and different industries laying people off for the survival of the company, I was like, “The people are more important than the company.” We have preached that we are all in this together, and so what kind of human being would I be if I didn’t practice what I have been preaching for all these years?

It wasn’t even a thought to us. It was like, “We are going to go down together.” We are not going to try to preserve cash by firing people. Hopefully, we can exist. It was like, “We are in this together. We are going to pay you all as much as we can until the bank account goes to zero, and then we’ll see where we are at,” and that was it. I think that’s the best decision we have ever made because the staff appreciated it and then the staff was like, “If you ride for us, we ride for you.” We are all in this together and we were creating magic all throughout COVID which allowed us to grow.

That idea that we are there to create careers not jobs is what creates a unifying mission within a company. We look at the people as not employees, but as valued members of our team. We see this a lot in my security business. Security officers are very much like the hospitality industry. You’ll see high employee turnover for $0.50 or $1 an hour. If you are able to create an environment in which people say, “When I come in here, they invest in me and I see a career trajectory or I see being here for a long time,” and the value that brings, you can reduce that turnover. Back to your point on quality, one of the biggest degraders of quality is often the consistent turnover.

The main reason we are trying to grow these brands right now is that we love a new challenge. We are always looking for the next challenge, and none of us have ever created a big business. We are like, “Can we do this?” Also, to fulfill the promise that I said, “Look at this as a startup.” There was a guy who was a part-time baker who’s now a head of accounting and finance. People are growing into positions that didn’t even exist a few years ago.

You were in accounting, finance, and HR.

The guy who runs all of our social media and is the head of our marketing, he was just front of the house with us at early Parkview. It’s cool that we have gotten to create this career path for him. Nobody will ever understand the brand as well as he does because he’s been there from day one. He’s been in the trenches.

Call Your Mother’s DNA is in him, but his DNA is in Call Your Mother. You could go hire a social media expert, but they would never understand the DNA of the brand as well as he does. It’s important to hire great people, but it’s important to bring people along for this journey. It’s great for them to build a career, but it’s also good for the business. Nobody will ever understand what it takes or what the early days were like or what the DNA of the business is more than somebody who has worked for us for five years and been in the trenches.

One of the things that you are doing here is you are splitting tips and paying everybody full wages. How has that differentiated you from the majority of the industry?

A lot of times, it’s front of the house gets the tips, and the back of the house gets a flat hourly rate. One is Dani came from the back of the house and she was like, “This is bullshit. We work harder than the front of the house. We are more important to success. That doesn’t make sense. I came from outside the industry. From an outsider’s perspective, it didn’t seem fair.

I was like, “What? Everybody is working the same for the same goal and same hours, why is one group making way more than a different group?” When we opened Timber, we were like, “Let’s try this.” Everybody is in the boat paddling in the same direction. The more tips we get, the more money everybody gets.

It seems fair. It puts everybody in the same boat together. There’s no hierarchy and it worked for us. It brought teams together. If the kitchen is falling behind, somebody from the house will go help the kitchen. If the front of the house needs somebody running food, somebody from the kitchen will run out. It creates this team effort that only exists when it’s an even tip share.

You have seven locations here in DC. You are going to Denver. What was the impetus and what was the driving factor behind expanding into a completely different market?

It goes back to growing a big business and creating new opportunities. We knew we wanted to go prove this in a new market. It goes back to going from Timber to Call Your Mother. We wanted to prove that we weren’t a one-hit wonder. We wanted to prove to ourselves and our employees and the world that this is a real brand that has legs. That’s where we started, and then we flew to a bunch of different cities. We were in Boston, Miami, Austin, and LA looking for what we thought would be the next market.

In all these cities, I was doing mental gymnastics. I was like, “We could go here, and those buildings make sense.” We then went to Denver and everything clicked. We found the perfect real estate. The neighborhoods reminded me of DC. We do so well in these neighborhoody spots. I realized Denver has so many East Coast transplants who love bagels, but there’s not a dominant bagel player out there. I thought it was wide open for us to come in and be cool. It would be a natural fit for us.

One of your investors said, “It’s rare you find an entrepreneur who brings everything together. Vision, product, creativity, and execution. As a couple in business, the two of them are the full package.” It’s a pretty good compliment. Having to understand your story, knowing where you’ve come from, and where you want to go, what does that mean to you?

It’s nice to hear stuff like that because when you are in the deep end of the pool, it’s hard to have that perspective right. We are trying to keep our head above water most days and survive like, “How do we get through this day to the next day?” We need to be better at sometimes taking a step back and being like, “This is cool what we have accomplished.” Andrew, eight years ago would be flabbergasted by where we are now. When you are creating every single day, it’s hard to see that. It’s great to hear that thing. We try and bring the heat every single day. We still have some blind spots so we are trying to hire great people to help fill some of those blind spots.

We need to be better at taking a step back and really appreciating what we've accomplished. Share on X

You said you have three keys to future success. I don’t know if you know you have three keys.

I talk a lot of BS. What are the three keys?

There were three good ones that you put out there that I want to ask you about. You mentioned a couple of them, but they are important to reiterate here. Maintaining quality, providing incredible service, and ensuring that the people you hire continue to grow with you. As you look forward, everything in any industry is easy when you are small-scale. How do you plan to continue those three core fundamentals as you grow and expand into new markets?

It’s never cutting corners on your core values. It’s crazy because, in this industry, you are incentivized to cut corners. The big food distributors, it’s cheaper to buy a finished product than it is to make something from scratch. It’s basically from top to bottom buy-in that there will be no corners cut. We are never going to give up on our values.TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

If our product is not great every single day, what are we? We know the restaurants that have grown too fast. All of a sudden, the quality is not the same. We have seen the cautionary tales. It starts from there are certain things that are non-negotiable. We are not going to cut corners on quality. Hard stop. We are not going to change our level of service.

You’ll never walk into Call Your Mother and have a self-order kiosk. We are not going to do that. We are a people business. In 2022, when you can get anything delivered to your couch, people are coming to us because it’s an experience. We are going to continue to do that and then never forget who your road dogs are and who’s helped you get to this place. There’s never going to be like, “Thanks for helping us get social media to 100,000 followers, but now we are at this new level, we are going to hire an expert.” No. It’s riding with the people that have ridden with you thus far.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“In 2022, when you can get anything delivered to your couch, people are coming to us because it’s an experience.”

Andrew, as we close out, I got another test question for you. You can’t use these three because we have already used them. The Jedburghs needed to do three things every day to be successful. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision as foundational tasks for themselves, then they could focus their attention on more complex challenges that came their way like defeating the German Army. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?

I meditate and exercise aggressively every single morning. I wake up at 5:00 every morning. The first thing I do is meditate, then I go for a walk in Rock Creek Park to spend some time in nature, and then I exercise. This now frees me up for the whole day that I don’t have anything hanging over my head. It puts me in an incredible spot mentally.TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

My body has been exercised. I have gotten rid of all that anxious energy and I’m allowed to focus on the things that totally matter. A lot of times, entrepreneurs and people in business put that stuff on the back burner. The foundation to be successful at what you want to do is to take care of your mind and your body and eat healthily. The three things are meditating, exercising, and eating healthy. If you do those three things every single day, your body feels great. It’s easier to focus. It’s easier to stay in the moment in your business and it allows everything to click.

Meditate, exercise, and eat healthily in moderation. You got to eat pizzas and bagels. You just got to do it in moderation. We had the bagels earlier. I’m hoping to have some pizza now if I could talk you into it. I appreciate you taking the time and sitting down with us. I talked about the nine characteristics of performance that SOF uses a bit earlier.

At the end of each one of these conversations, I think about these nine. I think about our guests and their story. One of these exudes what they have done and where they are going. We talked about humility. You mentioned that one as being central to your thought and an analysis of your journey. We talked about curiosity in terms of marketing. We even talked about integrity and doing what’s right for the employees and products.

TJP - EP 90 Founder of Call Your Mother Deli & Timber Pizza Andrew Dana

“Never forget who your road dogs are. Who’s helped you get to this place.”

We talked about adaptability and having to change the business model and continuously find resiliency. You sold three pizzas and got an investor, and now look where you are. The teamwork that you are building here. The effect of intelligence and learning from the past, and trying to apply that to your future decisions, and emotional strength. Being calm in the chaos. You talked about COVID and not losing your mind. Running and going internal but looking at the big picture.

There’s one more here I didn’t mention because that’s the one that exudes what you are doing and it’s a drive. I talk about drive and the terms of everything start from the drive. You’ll always hear me put and drive first when I give this list. Normally after that, I will tend to go in whatever order comes back to my mind, but I always start with drive. If we don’t wake up every day as we spoke about earlier and think about where we are going and where we want to be, then we get out of bed and take the first step to go do that, none of those other things matter because you are never going to get there.

Eight or ten years ago, you were selling windows and financial products. Now, you are expanding into new markets in a totally different industry. The quality’s great. The people are great. It’s been wonderful to sit here with you. Continue to push and drive. I go to Colorado a couple of times a year, so I’m going to be looking at Denver.

I’m putting you down for a dozen every time you are out there.

When I come back to DC, I will certainly be visiting you again. Thanks for taking the time.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you very much.

 

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