Canadian Pizza Magazine

The Pizza Chef: The Good Project Manager

By Diana Coutu   

Features In the Kitchen Ingredients

The good project manager

In 2007, I took on the biggest job
of my life. First, I became the project manager and then the general
contractor of our bigger, better, brighter, ultimate-kick-butt pizzeria.

In 2007, I took on the biggest job of my life. First, I became the project manager and then the general contractor of our bigger, better, brighter, ultimate-kick-butt pizzeria.

In the beginning I wasn’t sure that I could manage all of it. I mean, I am organized and good at communicating with others; however, I had never been a project manager or a general contractor and quite honestly I didn’t know exactly what they did. 

Initially we interviewed several candidates for the PM position. After schlepping my five-inch stuffed project binder to several meetings and receiving proposals showing an obvious lack of knowledge for the project, we were not only insulted by the waste of our time but also mortified by the rampant incompetence displayed by most of the people we interviewed.


One guy was going to supply all our sinks as part of his proposal, only the floor plan clearly showed a standard three-compartment sink. Instead, he figured he could just install three single sinks: home laundry basin size sinks.

Even though he had assured us in a previous phone interview that he had experience building kitchens; he must have been totally unaware of the city’s strict bylaws and building codes for food establishments. His laundry sinks would never pass inspection. Good thing we were aware, and knew to continue our search for a good project manager.

But first, maybe I should back up a little in my story. We’d outgrown the capacity of our location a couple of years ago. Finding the perfect location to move our existing business to was challenging, to say the least. We are a busy pick-up and delivery location and need good access to main roads, ample parking and a location indicative of our reputation.

In addition to all of the above, we needed to be less than 10 minutes away from our existing location.

By late April 2007, we were in the final stages of negotiating our lease at the new location. We went back and forth with our architect about the floor plan. We had finalized a great floor plan with excellent flow and several built-in efficiencies.

I had been really diligent in not allowing a “designer” to interfere with the layout or apply “styles” of decor. As part of a mastermind group, I have met many restaurateurs who let a designer take over a project and almost all of the time they were left with something that didn’t function as a full-service restaurant, and in some cases doesn’t even look like a nice place to be in. I wasn’t about to let that happen to us.

Now it was on to the build-out. We needed the floor plan to get accurate quotes and estimates for the build-out. Until you get all the estimates in you really have no idea what your budget needs to be. But it’s still important to get prices on things early – even rough estimates plugged into a business plan are better than no estimates.

In our case we started with a brand new unit, it still had a dirt floor. We really could start with a fresh canvas and create the best layout, every station, down to the smallest details, even strategically placing floor drains, and choosing materials for the floors and the walls that would be easy to clean and last longer than paint.

Finding the “who” to lead the build-out of our new store was proving to be exhausting. And at this last interview was the only one individual that we did like, except he was booked solid and couldn’t take our job; a decision we fully respected, however, the individual was kind and honest and told me flatly that we didn’t need a project manager.

After looking through  my stuffed binder he told us that we’d actually already done the work. Besides, he said, it was obvious that no one knows pizza like we do. We were building a 21st-century delivery and take-out pizzeria using some of the latest and greatest equipment available.

He said that he’d never seen a lot of the equipment in the binder and that because we were already pizza experts and we knew exactly what we wanted and, honestly, would be of little help.

It was true, we did know about the specifications of the project and the why’s more than anyone else. This gentleman said that a project manager would only add to the costs – 10-15 per cent of the entire budget. He suggested that we find a good general contractor to co-ordinate just the trades.

By June 2007 it was obvious that there wasn’t a candidate that we could trust to be in charge of our project. This was a very important decision; ultimately it would be our staff and ourselves who would

pay dearest for things not being done according to our plan. 

When my husband and I talked about it, I told him that I thought I could do a better job than any of the candidates we’d interviewed. If there were going to be mistakes, I would rather be the one responsible for them. He agreed and gave me his full support.

While my husband wanted to help me in any way he could, we agreed that his job was to make sure that the existing store was running as efficiently as possible. We needed to make sure the business we had grown to the point of needing a bigger space was healthy and ready to grow again. That means training, product consistency and having a good staff. That also means knowing your numbers and counting the money.

We agreed that his priorities were at the existing store while mine lay in the new space that still had the dirt floor.

I’m certain there are many husband and wife teams that split up duties in order to get everything done. In many instances it’s best to; it’s only natural that you each have different strengths and talents. Use them to your advantage. Cohesion is imperative and clear written goals are the best way to communicate with others and keep on track.

I am extremely grateful that I have such a supportive and wonderful husband, and we have a solid relationship that has stood the test of time. He completely trusted me to choose the colours and materials that we’d use for the floors and wall surfaces of the new store. It helped that we’d been through it before for our home. I chose all the colours for the main floor and the rest of the house. He was pleased with the results then so he knew that I would create something nice with the focus on the practical.

I made a list of all the steps that were needed to get the build-out done. It wasn’t necessarily in the proper order at first but it was helpful to get myself organized. Then I created a spreadsheet and added time requirements to job completion. Some work needed to be done independently while other work could be completed simultaneously.

As we were starting with a dirt floor, there were steps that had two or more parts. For instance, the floor drains and the stacks had to be place before the cement floor could be poured, then the cement had to cure for 30 days before any floor finishes could be applied. Fifteen days after the cement was poured, the wall frames could go up.

Once that was done, the wiring could go in the framing in addition to any plumbing. The drywall could then be hung.

When your floor finishes are applied no other work can be completed. All other work stops when your floors are being laid and curing.

We decided on a hardwearing epoxy floor finish for the kitchen area, which needed a few days to properly cure. We had to re-schedule our tile floor job for the customer area because the epoxy job ran late.

This is actually pretty common in build-outs; when one job runs into another job’s time frame.   
Next month, in the second part of my “epic” tale, we learn about gas lines, and why double-checking everything is sound advice.

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