Canadian Pizza Magazine

The Pizza Chef: The project manager… part 2

By Diana Coutu   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

The project manager . . . part 2

Last month, Canadian Pizza
Magazine columnist Diana Coutu started sharing her experience in
relocating her pizzeria in Winnipeg. The following is part 2 of her

Last month, Canadian Pizza Magazine columnist Diana Coutu started sharing her experience in relocating her pizzeria in Winnipeg. The following is part 2 of her series:

hen completing your build out you never want to have to re-do anything. Therefore it is imperative that time is blocked for each portion of the build and that it’s understood amongst all your trades what job(s) are to be done and who is completing it during what time frame.

Communication between you and your tradespeople is paramount to the successful and timely completion of any construction project.


For the structural portion of our build out there was actually very little to do. Other than the landlord’s work of providing a washroom, there were only four other full walls and a half wall to build. We wanted an open concept for our new age pizza production kitchen and other than some easy-to-clean surfaces, the rest of it was equipment.

I stumbled across a place that happened to be the largest restaurant equipment dealer in Manitoba, Metal-Tech Industries. They also did in house custom stainless steel work.

We were fortunate to work with a delivery carry-out pizzeria specialist and he was very helpful in more than just finalizing an accurate budget. He understood why we wanted specific things placed at each station and was meticulous in taking notes, a very good sign.

He was very interested in our choice of oven – a Picard tunnel oven with a black granite stone baking surface on a conveyor belt. This would be the first one installed in Canada, west of Quebec. He was impressed that we’d already flown out to the Picard plant, twice. Each time we brought with us a cooler full of our dough, sauce, cheeses and toppings to test the oven.

We ultimately chose Metal-Tech to complete the fabrication of all of our custom stainless steel pieces and we sourced all of our large equipment through them, as there was no one else who could compare to the level of knowledge and expertise that they could provide.

From the beginning of the project to the very end, we were continually delighted with the level of excellence, professionalism and quality of the custom pieces they made and of the people who installed them. Now that my staff and I use the equipment day in and day out, I know we couldn’t have made a better choice.

Like many projects, ours did take longer than planned. There were hiccups and interruptions along the way and even a two-week delay due to a lack of city gas inspectors. And thank goodness that I choose good tradesmen to complete the work because they caught things that I wouldn’t have.

For instance, after the cement floor had cured enough to walk on, I gained access into my unit with my electrical engineer so he could assess the workspace. That was the first time he saw the transformer installed inside my unit, the one which was supposed to be heavy duty, but wasn’t. Apparently, it was indeed the right size unit, but the wires leading out were too small and wouldn’t have enough capacity for our equipment.

It was specifically written in our lease to have the heavy-duty capacity and so this was important that it was caught early and had to be corrected before any power could be hooked up to it. So the new transformer was ordered immediately, but got lost in transit from Quebec for more than a week.

How does a transformer the size of a large A/C unit, weighing several tons get misplaced? You got me.

Then, it finally arrives, but the power for the entire mall – all 18 units – had to be shut down to replace this transformer, so it became a scheduling nightmare. I think it was finally switched one Sunday night at 10 p.m.  

In another instance, early on in the project when I was gathering estimates, I called my local sales rep for my phone company for an accurate estimate to move all my lines over. And I had prepared questions, like whether I had to have the phone company install the lines or my electrician.

She decided to check the original mall work order and learned that there were only a small number of phone lines coming into that mall. Even though I hadn’t started my build out, nor had a couple of other tenants, there weren’t any more lines to give out. Good thing she checked and put in another work order to expand the number of phone lines coming in.

I bet the new tenants have no idea that they have her to thank for eliminating days of delays because the work was completed months ahead of us moving in.  

In another instance, also written into my lease, was having a specific capacity for natural gas. We’d always planned to add a second oven once we reached the maximum capacity of our one oven, so rather than have to upgrade later, we wanted to have ample gas capacity in place for the second oven right from Day 1.

My gas installer used the architect’s drawings to estimate the cost to hook up the ovens. Luckily, he decided to go up on the roof and actually check; he saw that not only was the pipe in a completely different place than what the architect’s drawings had shown, but the pipe was a lot smaller than it was supposed to be, and wouldn’t allow enough gas to flow for one oven, let alone two.

Why wasn’t everything done according to the architect’s plans? You got me. Why was my tradesman the only who got on the roof to inspect the gas lines?

The truth of it is that when you contract or sub-contract a job to someone they’re supposed to complete the job according to the plans you give them. But I’ll bet that not too many architects and landlords get up on roofs to check that things have been properly completed.

The truth is that people take shortcuts, especially when they think no one’s checking. Most people don’t check on the work, they just assume that people will do things properly.

Early on I decided that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes and on the day that all of my equipment went up on the roof I climbed up a 50-foot ladder to inspect what I expected it to be.

Sure I could have come up with an easy excuse; it was minus 40 C, I completely trust the guy I chose to install and maintain those pieces of equipment, plus I’m terrified of heights. But I was determined to see firsthand where such a large part of my budget was going.

It was important for me to check everything, after all, not only was I signing everyone’s cheque, but as project manager and general contractor, I was also signing off on all the work. This was our vision of the ultimate delivery and take-out pizzeria coming to reality. It was going to have to be exactly what we wanted, exactly as laid out in the plans, to code, as written in the lease, or I would have serious issues with the non-compliant party.

Diversions from the floor plan and any work not compliant with food establishments bylaws would result in delays in permits being issued, which delays opening which delays the all-important cash flow. In the construction business, more than ever, time is money.

By late October 2007 our existing store on St. Mary’s Road was literally falling apart at the seams, and we couldn’t wait a week longer than was absolutely necessary to move into our bigger location. The St. Mary’s store was never designed to hold 23 staff, let alone do the weekly record sales that we did.

Besides, we’d agreed with the St. Mary’s store landlord that we’d vacate the premises by the end of the year; which worked well for all because he let us off the last eight months of that lease so that he was able to bring in a new tenant much sooner.

As the new St. Anne’s store was quickly coming together it was time to begin arranging our move from our tired, worn out St. Mary’s location into this brand new dream pizzeria.  

If I could give you one golden piece of advice in taking on this type of endeavour it would be to check all work; presumed, existing and ongoing. Check everything then check it again. Have good people who know their stuff. Keep good lists for progress reports and conversation pages with dated notes of what you discussed and with whom.

Most people don’t take notes of meetings and conversations and as a result forget many key details. Most people are extremely busy and can’t possibly remember all the details from past conversations as time passes. Writing things down in one place, such as a day timer or a project binder will be helpful to keep everyone on track.

As the project moved along I found that it was helpful to give everyone confirmation calls or e-mails for pre-booked meetings, just to make sure that everyone remembered to attend and where the meeting was to take place. Everyone appreciated the extra effort to keep them organized, even though I did it solely for our benefit and I received many compliments on how well I managed the project.

During the final stages of the build out, in addition to being known as “the boss lady,” I became known as “the coffee fairy.” I made it a point to drop by the work site with fresh hot coffee for all the tradesmen, sometimes twice a day, but always late afternoon, between 2:30-3:30 p.m.

I found that it was the perfect time for a quick pick-me-up and that by delivering it to the tradesmen I created goodwill and kept them on site working. I also brought fresh hot pizzas for lunch, Timbits for snacks, and other goodies to keep the trades happy and on site.

Although it wasn’t my intention, many of the trades did extra work that they didn’t bill us for, and even stayed late simply because I took good care of them. I’m pretty sure that I spoiled them because they made several comments about being sad to finish up and move on to the next job. 

We opened our bigger, and better St. Anne’s location on Dec. 19, 2007, and more incredibly, we vacated the old location in those last 12 days of 2007. We moved all of our dough trays, our small wares and our POS system over and “set in place” in one day. Then we dismantled the equipment left behind and had it moved to an auction house.

The entire process from beginning to end was an unbelievable amount of work, with an incredible amount of planning and preparation. It was all worth it. And through it all we weren’t at it alone. We had a team of great people who helped to make it a success.

Looking back now, we are all thrilled with the results, even the tradesmen are proud of what we all accomplished together. I’m able to say that even though I’d never read a book about project management, that I was a good project manager, certainly the best choice to take the lead for our own 21st-century pizzeria.

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