Category: Life

Christianos Pizza: The “Wise” Way to Do Business

It’s 5:00 a.m. on Saturday in downtown Wautoma. Most of the town is still dreaming and will be for several hours. But the lights flick on in the kitchen of Christianos Pizza, bringing it to life once again.

Flour begins to fly as the mixer hums. A mountain of pizza dough rises on the cool stainless-steel countertop. One stray fly bumps repetitively into the glass of the front door, longing for the freedom of the patio. Meanwhile, a steaming cup of fresh Colectivo coffee accompanies an open Bible on one of the corner dining room booths.

Like every morning for the past 20 years, Larry Wise sits in the solitude of the restaurant he labored to create, the only sounds being the whir of his mixer and his own voice echoing his faith in God. “He was behind this all.”

Larry is the owner and CEO of Christianos Pizza in Wautoma, Wisconsin. A successful business, Christianos is in its twenty-second year of operation and has expanded to four restaurant locations, thanks to Larry’s business philosophy and work ethic.

Food. Faith. Family.

Food, faith, and family. As a Christian father operating a family restaurant business, those three words sum up Larry’s motivations and priorities.

It takes a special kind of know-how and experience to open a family restaurant, but Larry certainly has it.

As an 11-year-old boy living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Larry began working his first job in a deli owned by an Italian family. A few years later, his best friend’s family opened an Italian pizza restaurant. Leaving the deli to aid in the pizza start-up, Larry worked in the restaurant seven days a week.

Larry attributes his business-building knowledge to his first two jobs. “I was able to see at a very young age how [the owners] built their businesses—door-to-door handing out menus, treating customers as family, and appreciating and valuing every customer,” Larry said.

Larry carried his business interest with him throughout other jobs and knew that one day he wanted to start his own pizza restaurant.

“I’d always tell my wife, ‘This would make a good pizza place,’ –every town we moved to. ‘That would make a good pizza place.’ I saw Christianos, which was [then] a condemned building—and I mean condemned—and I said, ‘That would be the perfect place.’ The very next day, there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on it. So I said, ‘Lord, if you want this to come about, it’s going to be your making, not mine.’”

Wise_Business_4

Business Beginnings

Doors began to open for Larry to move forward with the building purchase.

“[The owner] wanted $25,000 for [the building] and a dummy like me that would come in and rebuild it. And what bank would loan a guy with no money and five kids $100,000 to do that? No one in their right mind. But they did.”

Even amidst faith and providence, Larry still faced daunting obstacles such as debt risk and the immensity of the building project.

“It was very risky to go into that kind of debt, not only to open a pizza restaurant but to build a pizza restaurant,” said Larry. “When we first started, I would check my bank account every day. There were a lot of worries—a lot of sleepless nights that went along with it.”

But Larry didn’t allow himself to be overcome by obstacles and worries, and his four thriving restaurants are proof of his determination. So how did Larry go from checking his bank account daily to prospering as a CEO?

Rolled-up Sleeves

Larry’s daughter, Megan Werch, who is highly active in the restaurant, ascribes Larry’s success partially to his involvement in every aspect of the business. “Every Saturday night, he’s bussing tables,” she said. Personal interaction with the customers allows Larry to gain real customer feedback and relate to those he serves.

This business practice fits perfectly into Larry’s overall business philosophy, which he states this way: “To be a blessing to customers, employees, and everyone we come in contact with, in regards to food quality and their experience. We want our customers to be glad they came here. And we want our employees to have that same blessing—to be happy they work here. I believe that’s God’s will: we bless others, and in return, we are blessed.”

The flourishing restaurants show that Christianos is indeed providing a great experience to its always-returning customers, but Larry has also ensured that his employees derive the same benefit.

“I think my favorite part about working there is the whole family atmosphere that Larry and his family create for the restaurant, both for the employees and customers that come through,” said Wautoma server Lauren McCartney. “[He] makes sure to create the best experience for my coworkers and me.”

Life Lessons

Young adults and aspiring leaders can learn from Larry’s example.

Megan has observed a growing trend of today’s young business entrepreneurs simply wanting to become bosses or overseers without having to get their hands dirty.

“As a young entrepreneur, [you have to] know every aspect of your business, and do every aspect of your business, from payroll to delivering pizzas to making pasta,” said Megan.

Wise_Business_3Twenty-two years into Christianos’ operation, and Larry still lives by that, although the day-to-day operations have become smoother than they used to be. Larry knows he can’t take all the credit and attributes much of the success to his children who have worked alongside him to create a quality brand.

“I do whatever is needed, but the restaurants are staffed very well and managed very well so I’m not the ‘go-to-guy’ like I was 20 years ago,” said Larry.

Larry continues to adapt to changing times in the way he conducts his business. His plan moving forward is to expand his carry-out and delivery services to meet the demand for in-home dining without the hassle of in-home cooking. Customers can expect to see innovative “to-go” dining options in the coming months. He also plans to open a fifth Christianos location in Appleton, Wisconsin, next year.

Regardless of Larry’s goals for the future and his long-term plans, he will never forget his humble beginnings and the origin of his success. He didn’t start at the top, and he hasn’t so soon forgotten.

You can bet that tomorrow morning he will be in the Christianos kitchen bright and early, mixing dough, sipping his cup of joe, and pouring out gratitude.

Traditional vs. Cutting-Edge Economy

With the innovative “share-to-share” or “peer economy” on the rise, Americans are reaping the benefits of competitive prices and experiencing more affordable ways to travel and lodge. However, some consumers have stuck to the comfort of the traditional economy. After all, isn’t climbing into a stranger’s car or sleeping in an unfamiliar basement risky?

I’ll tell you everything you need to know!

This broadcast was produced for use by Radio America, the University of Delaware, and The Kylee Zempel Blog. You can find the podcast version here.

Traditional vs. Cutting-Edge Economy from Radio America on Vimeo.

 

Will the Real Christians Please Stand Up?

All across America, Christians are sitting down.

As if their lethargic posture were not enough, this apathetic sub-sector of nominal “Christians” not only remains seated, but they sit in a bothersome position. They sit on the fence–the fence that separates guardians of the truth from its relentless opposition.

I am actually quite alarmed when I consider the number of times in the past few weeks I have heard so-called Christians and other good people engaging in a practice I like to call “comfort promotion.” That is, a hands-off approach to culture that seeks to make everyone comfortable, and in turn, disregards the fate of truth. “Comfort promotion” mindsets take different practical forms, but their symptoms are unmistakable. Perpetrators take part in “comfort promotion” because, in their minds, they win on all fronts. After all, it allows them to maintain a satisfactory level of self-righteousness while at the same time affording the perfect opportunity to hold weak convictions. They often unknowingly become the most valuable players in the stripping of the truth and the spreading of the anti-gospel of self-indulgence and relativism.

Recently, I have been in conversations that yielded these statements from comfort promoters and Christians:

I would never have an abortion. I mean, I think in some specific cases it’s okay, but think it’s wrong for me personally.” or “I don’t think gay marriage is right, but they can do whatever they want. I’m not going to get involved.” or “It was definitely wrong for people to own slaves, but that was a different time. It just wasn’t the same back then.”

The reason comfort promotion is so dangerous is that comfort and truth are often opposed to each other. Human nature is to make oneself and others more comfortable, but we have begun to sacrifice the truth in order to do that. The truth is inherently uncomfortable. “The truth hurts,” is more than just a timeless adage; it is a reality. But while truth makes humankind uncomfortable, it also offers hope that cannot be found anywhere else. It offers hope that is unknowable apart from that truth.

I know some true believers who cringe at the idea of taking strong positions against immorality within the broader culture or who think it is inappropriate to proclaim any truth that is not explicitly the gospel of Jesus Christ, stopping at the doctrines of salvation. What those well-intentioned believers fail to recognize is that the broader fight for truth is not about telling people how to live. The fight for truth is not about legislating morality. The fight for truth is not about creating a society in which Christians feel more comfortable.

Most importantly, the fight for truth is not an antithesis to love.

The fight for truth is about fighting for the preservation of what is true and right and good and godly. It is about loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

The truth is being silenced on our watch. If you are a follower of Christ, it is your responsibility to guard the truth, to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and to hold forth the word of truth (Philippians 2:16). Relativism and “subjective truth” are perpetuated by advocates of such ideas, yes. But even more detrimental than explicit opposition to the truth, is individuals who possess the truth and yet remain silent or those who have knowledge of the truth but do not really believe it. Rather than standing firm in the fight for truth, people claiming the name of Christ remain seated in their weak convictions, not wanting to offend or step on toes. Passively sitting down is the natural response of human nature and sinful flesh because it is the path of least resistance.

Sitting is always easier than standing.

Standing requires you to know what you believe and why you believe it. Standing demands a defense of conviction. Standing puts passivity to death. Standing is exhausting. But standing is non-optional.

In this day, there is no place for cowardice. There is no place for lethargy. And there certainly is no place for fence-sitters.

Stand up, cowardly Christian. Apathy stops here. Quit your weak attempts at justifying your lack of conviction. Stop tacking weak disclaimers onto the end of everything you claim to believe. Pick a side of the fence, and stay on it. And if you feel like you have to apologize for which side you chose, you probably picked wrong.

A war has been waged for truth, and the victors will not be found sitting down.

For the love of truth, Christian, stand up.

Follow-through

 

“Nope, you didn’t follow-through.”

I cannot tell you how many times I heard my coach say those words.

I have always loved playing the game of volleyball. When I was in middle school, the girl in high school that I looked up to the most was beautiful on the inside but a beast on the court. She was the model outside hitter, and I dreamed of filling her shoes when she graduated. Athletics always came naturally to me, and I think part of that just came from just being a physically strong kid. Needless to say, I had all the power in the world to hit the ball hard and serve it far.

At least that’s how I thought it would go.

My serve was uncontrollable, and my spikes were hardly different. No matter how hard I tried, 50% of the time my hits went in the net, and the other 50% they went far out of bounds.

“It doesn’t matter how strong you are if you don’t follow-through.”

That’s what they told me, and they were 100% right.

I’m starting to learn that those word apply to far more than just my time on the court.

Frankly, I’ve been in a rut. Spiritually, I feel a bit stuck. It is not for a lack of desire. I don’t feel rebellious or bitter. My Christianity just feels dry and my personal walk fatigued. I still look forward to church every Sunday and leave feeling rejuvenated, convicted, and uplifted. I feel like I want more of God, or at least, I want to want more of Him.

The desires are genuine, but I’m still not as faithful as I want to be. Spiritual conversations feel forced, and my seemingly scarce personal time in the Word is laced with apathy and distractions. So where is the disconnect?

Tonight it hit me.

It doesn’t matter how “strong you are,” how real your desires are, how much head knowledge of God you have, how right your intentions are…if you don’t follow-through.

Intent vs. follow-through is a battle in so many areas of life: exercise, academics, diets, relationships, goals, hobbies, tasks, etc. And so it goes for the Christ-follower’s relationship with his or her Lord.

Follow-through may take different forms for different people, but I think it starts with a prayer of dedication, reliance on the Holy Spirit’s power and work within us, and a careful look at what has robbed our attention and first priority.

For me, tonight it started in the form of denying myself in a prayer of hesitant surrender. “Please take from me my life when I don’t have the strength to give it away to you, Jesus.”¹ 

I realized that I had been denying the Holy Spirit from working freely in my heart and mind by approaching the throne with leftover time and apathy. The help of the Holy Spirit is completely essential if we are to have any hope of following through; my flesh is too weak to consistently seek God on my own.

Practically, following-through took the form of deleting some apps on my phone…that’s right. A careful consideration of my recent devos reminded me of how easily I allow myself to be distracted by my phone and how I have chosen social media over prayer and study over and over again. Bye, Instagram app!

Prayer and reading were different tonight.

So, friend, do you have good intentions and still feel stuck? Take it from my coach, and consider your follow-through.

¹”Take My Life” by Third Day, 1995