Reeds Spring Pizza Co. owners Flavie and Paul Lear hold a Galaxy Pizza on a peel just before place it in their gas stone pizza oven.
Business Spotlight: Best Pie in Missouri
Anointing the best pizza in Missouri depends on who is asked. It could be Food Network favorite Grinders Pizza in Kansas City, Mizzou student hangout Shakespeare’s Pizza in Columbia, or President Obama-preferred Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis.
Currently holding the statewide title, according to USA Today, is Reeds Spring Pizza Co., just north of Branson.
“We had no idea we were even looked at for the best pizza,” co-owner Flavie Lear said of USA Today’s Nov. 5–7 weekend edition cover story. “It came as a shock and total surprise.”
When Flavie and Paul Lear opened the Main Street pizza parlor three years ago in small-town Reeds Spring – population 465 – they had never owned a restaurant. Paul Lear is a print-shop owner and mayor of Reeds Spring, while his wife is the daughter of French restaurateurs.
The surprising statewide credentials have boosted confidence and sales for the Lears.
November receipts rose a whopping 210 percent compared to the same month a year ago, which should push annual sales 40 percent above 2009, Flavie Lear said. The boon in business allowed the Lears to hire five employees last month and should push annual sales above $200,000 for the first time.
Throw the dough until it sticks Flavie Lear largely runs the 2,500-square-foot restaurant that seats 100, while Paul Lear operates Creative Printing and Design in Hollister and day-to-day town business as Reeds Spring mayor.
Flavie is a native of Paris. Her parents owned restaurants and Flavie would help out some as a child. After school, she moved to California, initially to just stay a year, but she married and had three daughters. She moved to the Ozarks when her parents, Jean-Marc and Solange Mirat, who own the Ozark Medieval Fortress in Lead Hill, Ark., relocated to the U.S. 19 years ago.
After purchasing Creative Printing five years ago, Paul merged and relocated his Reeds Spring shop, Paul’s Printing, leaving an empty building. Flavie and Paul married three years ago and began thinking about plans for the building.
“We did some research and found pizza to be fairly easy,” said Flavie, noting that Reeds Spring didn’t already have a pizza shop. “We thought it would be a draw.”
The couple spent six months researching sauces, crusts and ingredients by going to dozens of pizza parlors around the region and talking to the owners.
“I laid my heart out to them,” said Wayne Gilberti, owner of Mr. Gilberti’s Place Chicago Pizza in Hollister. “They’re very decent people, and I wouldn’t have just told anyone about the business.” Gilberti began working in his grandmother’s pizzeria on Chicago’s north side when he was just 6 years old. He moved to Branson in 1992 and formerly owned Mr. G’s downtown before opening Mr. Gilberti’s five years ago.
“The most important piece of advice I’ve given them is to use quality products, something I was taught as a boy,” Gilberti said.
The Lears took the advice to heart. They use a gas stone pizza oven and high-quality ingredients.
Once they cooked up their recipes, they invited friends, family and acquaintances to participate in taste-testing focus groups, making adjustments as needed.
“I think the taste-testing panels really speak well to their business imagination and their ability to research before putting a product on the market,” said Jim Long, owner of Long Creek Herbs in Blue Eye.
The Lears obtained Long’s permission to use two recipes he wrote for his cookbooks for their salad dressing.
The taste tests helped the Lears develop unique pizzas, such as the Galaxy, which has seven toppings, and the Galline, with a basil pesto and topped with cashews.
On the rise The Lears invested $35,000 in renovations and equipment before opening in September 2007.
Flavie said sticking to their commitment to high-quality ingredients has been a tough business decision. “Certain costs on our ingredients have doubled since we opened,” she said. “At one point, cheese was going up every week.”
The Lears resisted the temptation to raise pizza prices, which range from $6.75 to $18.75. “We want it to be affordable for a family to go out,” said Flavie. That plan resulted in the restaurant realizing about a one-third profit margin, but Flavie said the restaurant makes up for that in volume.
Sales for the first three months in 2007 were $84,600 and the restaurant grew by more than 25 percent in each of the next two years with sales of $123,000 in 2008 and $155,000 in 2009. Sales are projected to reach $210,000 in 2010, and the Lears are hoping sales total $260,000 in 2011.[[In-content Ad]]