Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story referred to Pizza Head's forthcoming philanthropic efforts as the "Pay It Forward " program. Pay It Forward was the name of the program under the restaurant's previous owner. While Dodson and Driemeier are finalizing the details on their own initiative that will be similar in form to the former Pay It Forward program, theirs will have a different name. We regret the error.
When Dylan Dodson and Sam Driemeier first started patronizing Pizza Head (3196 South Grand Boulevard, 314-266-5400)
a few years ago, they never dreamed that they would one day own the place. That all changed this past September when something inspired Dodson to reach out to Pizza Head's former owner, Scott Sandler, to see if he'd be willing to sell. As Dodson explains, he didn't expect a "yes," or even what he would do if that yes came, but he still felt compelled to go for it.
"I just took a leap and messages Scott," Dodson says. "I'm not sure why, but it just occurred to me to do so. I figured, the worst case was that he would say no and I would just go back to my day job. You don't know until you ask. I felt like there was a one percent chance he'd say yes."
Though both Dodson and Driemeier have spent significant time in the restaurant business, neither were working in it immediately prior to buying Pizza Head; Driemeier has been a pharmacy technician for the past few years while Dodson has been in the manufacturing industry, most recently working in a cardboard factory. Despite their jobs outside of the food and beverage field, they both longed to make their way back into the business, both because of a genuine passion for it, as well as a desire to be the change they wanted to see in many of their former restaurant jobs.
"We've been there, and we know how we wish we were treated at the time, so we want to take our employee's input and respect their ideas," Dodson says. "I am very into communication, and I feel like I haven't always had that in past jobs. Now that I am the owner, it's very important for me to have that."
Dodson and Driemeier are especially cognizant of how the ownership transition might be felt by their employees, and they say that they are making every effort to involve them and hear their opinions on how things are going. In turn, they are leaning on the workers who worked at Pizza Head under Sandler to learn a great deal about the restaurant's recipes and processes. Their guidance, coupled with the time they spent working alongside Sandler himself as the deal was being finalized, make them confident that they are able to continue providing the Pizza Head experience the restaurant's patrons have come to know and love.
To that end, Dodson and Driemeier want Pizza Head's loyalists to rest assured that they plan to keep the recipes, ingredients and menu items the same as they have always been. The only changes they anticipate are additions, not subtractions; the pair plan on expanding the restaurant's hours (they even test that brunch may be something to look out for in the future), as well as its vegan offerings. Currently, they are working on bringing back salads and developing vegan cheese bread, cookies and breadsticks, which should be available soon.
"We don't want to turn Pizza Head into anything it's not," Driemeier says. "We just want to take the same idea and expand on it. Eventually, we will see what happens down the road, because we don't want to run before we are walking. We feel like we are doing well since the transition, so we don't want to do too much too soon."
Beyond the food, Dodson and Driemeier hope to keep another important aspect of Pizza Head up and running: it's charitable efforts. In particular the pair hope to bring back their own version of the restaurant's former Pay It Forward program, which provides pizza to those in need, as soon as possible. Even before the sale was finalized, Dodson and Driemeier have been working with local shelters, nonprofits and churches to figure out how to best reinstate the initiative. Though they are not quite ready to announce their plans or the name of their new initiative, they are in the process of finalizing the details and hope to make their vision for the program public shortly.
In addition to helping the hungry and unhoused members of the community, Dodson and Driemeier hope to focus on food waste, a problem they have noticed during their time in the restaurant business. They emphasize they are committed to using their business to be a force for good, and they are eager to figure out ways to give to the community that go well beyond simply serving up great pizza.
"Now, we are in a position to be a small part of the solution," says Dodson.
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