Panini Pete from Panini Pete's

Panini Pete from Panini Pete's

Welcome to podcast episode number 28 of the Mobile Alabama Business Podcast with Panini Pete. My name is Marcus Neto. I own Blue Fish Design Studio. We're a digital marketing firm located downtown on dolphin street. I'm the host of Mobile Alabama Business Podcast where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.

In this episode, I sit down with Panini Pete. Pete owns several restaurants in our area from his namesake Panini Pete's, to his recent venture Sunset Pointe. We also talk about how he got started at the CIA, Culinary Institute of America, that is. We also talk about his approach to business and the things he is focusing on now as he expands his restaurant empire. We discuss his involvement with thee Messlords which is a group of chefs that travel the world to bring cheer and good food to the active duty men and women in the military. He is a character and a really awesome guy. Let's dive right in with Panini Pete.


Marcus: Welcome to the podcast, Pete.

Pete: Good to be here, Marcus.

Marcus: Tell us a little bit about yourself. I have known of you for quite a long time through a mutual friend Teth Lee. I'm just excited to have you on the podcast today. Tell me a little bit about who Panini Pete is. Are you from Mobile? How did you end up here?

Pete: You said 25 minutes so I can't tell you that much.

Marcus: Give us the Cliff Notes version please.

Pete: It's funny you mentioned [Teth 00:01:37]. That was the first media I got from Panini Pete's. It was [her 00:01:39] little [Vittles 00:01:40] review. It was awesome. [inaudible 00:01:43] the other but you know my story is pretty varied. It depends on what condition you catch me in. To make it short: born in Chicago, south side of Chicago; grew up in South Florida, moved there when I was 7. Fort Lauderdale was home. I've spent my formative years there and cut my teeth in the restaurant business there. I love the industries. Started working in it when I was 14 and worked for some really good people down there. That helped mentor me.

I ended up going to culinary school. I went to chef school, started in '84 up at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York way before it was cool to be a chef. It was just a job. It was a trade school. I looked at it [as such 00:02:22], it was to go out and learn to be a chef. There was nothing at the end of the rainbow. It's a [crying it 00:02:26] out in kitchens for 80 hours a week. It worked out great, loved the business, love learning more about food.

I always wanted to have the opportunity to have my own place and and knew that that was a critical part of it and went back, worked on some cruise ships. I did some crazy things. Some folks may know my sister Leslie. I'm not sure who runs the Mobile store. My sister Leslie is married to Bob Baumhower who is of the Alabama, Miami Dolphins, and now the wing king of the State of Alabama. He recruited me when he retired. That's what introduced me to Alabama. I worked for him for about 6 years up in Tuscaloosa.

Then I did a stint at the university. I was the executive chef up there working for Aramark. Late 90s, he took over some properties in Orange Beach and opened up Mangos on the island. He coaxed me back. He said, "You know we're doing [high rate 00:03:20] food, surround the water." It's like Lauderdale where I grew up. It was cool. I spent a few years down there. We did Mangos and Calypso's and that was a great adventure. Anyway, long story short, ended up, it was time to do my own place, scraped up not near enough money but what I thought was enough, and opened up Panini Pete's in the French Quarter down in Fairhope.

Marcus: I've always wanted to ask you paninis. Why paninis of all things? Is it just the name?

Pete: I looked and looked. I thought maybe doing a turnkey. That was an opportunity. Bob Omainsky is a great friend of mine from the Wentzells legend around here. We'd worked together in Fort Lauderdale on the 80s in a restaurant called Shooters and that's a little by-story. I was a busboy there and he was a valet parker. It was a place doing 15 million a year. Seven years later, he was the GM and I was his first assistant. He talk to me about maybe looking at a turnkey. He said, "You know, you go in there day one, it may not be what you want but the register is working right away. You go in and get your own thing." [crosstalk 00:04:28]

Marcus: All the systems and processes are in place.

Pete: It takes time. [You may 00:04:30] even be waiting on a plumber, you're waiting on the city, you're waiting on that. I tried a few deals and looked at a few things and couldn't do it. My wife discovered this little place in the French Quarter that was shut down. It was formerly the Blues Cafe most recently but it had been about four or five different places. She rented the Miss Bessie Montgomery who's a phenomenal lady. She's been doing business since I think the 20s over there. She's like 95, my landlord, and she's amazing, hard-working.

Long story short, that spot was my only option. I said, "You know, let me look at the market" and I saw what was there and it looked like it can potentially be a good breakfast-lunch market. I said, "You know I went to [Marianne's 00:05:12] and went to [Xander's 00:05:13] and went to Andrei's and [Dew Ones 00:05:14] and looked around what was there because I didn't want to step on anybody's toes. I didn't want to try, "I'm going to do a better chicken salad or better chef salad or a better Reuben.

Paninis was in my wheelhouse. I had done some restaurants in Fort Lauderdale where we'd get some Italian theme, mostly pasta restaurants, but we also dabbed on the paninis. I said, "You know what. This is a unique product I can bring," put my twist on it, do a chef based menu where we make our own mozzarella, roast our own meats, aiolis, dressings, spreads off from scratch, fresh cut fries, fresh cut chips. It evolved in the concept and the Panini Pete's, really that was my wife as well because I didn't know. I was going to call it Burger City or Holy Cannoli or whatever.

Marcus: Little did you know how it's going to stick.

Pete: It came like that. It came more than just a name on the door. It was like this moniker. It's like, "Oh, hey, it's Panini Pete." It's so funny. It is. I was like, "God, that worked out pretty good."

Marcus: That's awesome. It's really cool. I think it's interesting to me as we've done interviews with other restaurateurs in the area that what you would think is an extremely competitive industry is competitive but also that there's a shared brotherhood, if you will, of like, "Hey, we've got some more experiences, you know? I'm going to offer something different. I maybe right down the street from you." There's a little bit of competition but at the same time it seems like you all want each other to succeed. I think what we're seeing down here is evidence of that. The more restaurants that are down here that are doing really cool things, the more [strong 00:06:49] people and all tides lift all ships.

Pete: It is neat, that industry. Unfortunately, it's not 100% throughout. There's a lot of people that are very, "Well, you're copying me," or this or that. They take it negatively. I do have a strong group of support over here and over on the other side of the bay. I've been one of these guys that, I'm an open book because I've work for those guys. They're just there to help you. Mentors and people you can call and they'll just tell you whatever they could do to help you.

Over here, Noel Broten, Bob Omainsky, David Reiss, these guys have been great to me, John. We'd talk all the time and consulting back and forth, whether it's issues with the city or with food or will help or just how do you navigate this. Same in Fairhope, there's people that I remember them opening up and saying hey.

Master Joe's is still one of my best buddies. I sent him a plant when he opened. I said, "Hey, welcome to the neighborhood." He was like, "That was a great thing that he ever did." I'm like, "Hey, you know, if you need help." You're going to run out of straws, you're going to run out of napkins, you're going to forget stuff your first week. You don't want to pull your hair out. Do a great job and that's an asset to the community. Right now, Richie Gambino, they're doing the pizza right across the street from this one. I love it. I'm like, "Let's create a little hub down there." There aren't going to eat paninis funny everyday, unfortunately.

Marcus: A big fan of Master Joe's and Shanghai Cottage is one of my favorite all-time restaurants in the area. You can make that introduction because I'd love to talk to him about his experiences too. Maybe I'm over simplifying this because you and I don't really know each other that well, but you went from a panini shop to another panini shop to Sunset Grill. I'm also seeing you on battleships on the Middle East and serving food for the troops. Where does that come from? Is that just your contacts were so widely varied that somebody pulled you in and said hey? I know you've got some involvement or some friends and stuff like that on the Food Network as well. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what's going on there.

Pete: I tell you the last, I'd say, 6, 7 years have been really incredible. Food has literally taken me all over the planet. I never thought it would happen but it is. One thing that a lot of people know me as Panini Pete. This guy is doing sandwiches like you talked about with Sunset Pointe. They're like, "What's he gonna do over there, you know? Is that gonna be Panini Pete's," and don't realize the years that I have in the business and that I have a degree from the CIA, the foremost culinary school in the planet. I'm a member of the Alumni Advisory Council now and I do a lot, give back a lot. Really what sparked it is good operations, good experience, trying to do a good job with what I did. I've a really good foundation to build on.

Then when we got the Food Network exposure, I got a lot of great regional stuff and I put me on the radar with them. When we got that exposure, Guy and I really hit it off. We just had a blast on the set. The show was really just starting to take off. It was the end of season 2, so they really we only been on the TV for about a year and was starting to take off. He still wasn't very guarded. He wasn't a big star he is now. We had a great time. We ended up going out that night and taking over the kitchen at Wentzell's. He was staying down at the Grand and we ended up heading down that way. We literally took over the the kitchen, him and I back there.

I'm sitting there with half the crew and Omainski was there, his wife Janet. They send out apps and we're having fun. They're like, "What are we gonna have for dinner? What do you want? What do you want?" He's like, "Ah, just give me the kitchen. Come on, Panini." We just go back there and just started throwing down. That was a little bit of refreshments involved. We were pretty loose having a good time. I was pinching myself. Here I am on cloud nine. We had such a good time that we formed a friendship. He invited me to do other shows. We did the Best Of episode out in California, one of his places. I did the Guy's Big Bite in New York at Food Network Studios, done the Guy's Grocery Games. I did the food truck race when Tyler Florence was here. You start to learn all these guys and just working hard and having fun and trying to do good at what you do. Fortunately, I love what I do. That's what started.

He did some tours with the military as a celebrity chef. What happened is a friend of his was really pursuing him to do more of that. His schedule didn't allow it but he said, "You know, I think to all these guys and gals that are deployed around the world that need morale boost, what better way to boost morale and let them know how much we care than go out there and cook it for them." It was Guy originally that said, "Here. Grab Panini Pete, Stretch, Gorilla, and Mike Hardin from Hodad's. Those guys got the chops. They got fun, great food, personalities to entertain as well." Because it's entertainment. That's how it started.

We basically just ran with it. Stretch and I run of the organization. Gorilla is still, what we call, one of our core four. Unfortunately, Mike passed away earlier this year of a heart attack and he was the Zen Buddha of the group. This guy have got his little Bossman knuckles, in on my arm. He had that. This guy was just so awesome. I could do a whole separate podcast just on him. We literally went out and made it such an impact and such a connection with the troops, and just feeding them and interacting with them. It was great for us.

Marcus: You're bringing a slice of home to them.

Pete: You're doing great food and they appreciate that. Then just talking about football and home and all these different things. We were out in the middle of a battleship. I've landed on two carriers out in the middle of the Arabian Sea where you fly out. We'd leave Bahrain in 2 hours on what they call a cod. You're stuck in a little chair and loud and you've got cranials on and seat belts every which way. You're freaking out and 2 hours later you're landing on the deck of a carrier and it's like certain death. I was certain we just crashed.

We had a crash landing. When they come down to catch a cable. There's four cables there coming to catch. Then they come in slow, just over 100 miles an hour but as a lot of people know when they go as they go to catch, they have to go full bore with the engines because if you bolt there, if they miss, they've got to take off with virtually no runway. Just as you're getting ready to get slammed on the deck engines are full throttle so you're pulling two different ways and it's boom, you hit it loud. I'm going, "Oh, Lord Jesus." I was going Fred Sanford, the water is coming in. They're going, "Yay!" I go, "What do you mean yay? I need to change my shorts."

The experience itself is amazing. We were on the Enterprise, first nuclear carrier ever built, 50 years in service. Lo and behold, about the third day there, we're running around. There's 5,000 sailors on there and we're in one of these what they call the ready rooms where all the top gun guys are getting ready to go out and do their mission. They were still supporting ground troops in Afghanistan. This was like 2010, 2011.

Lo and behold, I meet a fighter pilot from Fairhope, Alabama. Jacob Ingersoll, this pilot, he's geared up there, ready to go. He goes, "Hey, Panini Pete." I go, "Hey, what's up?" I didn't think anything of it at first because they've got posters up and they all know we're coming. They promoted, "Hey, we got these celebrity chefs." He goes, "I'm from Fairhope." I was like, "No way." I give him a big hug. His getting ready to go and drop 500-pound bombs if necessary. All of a sudden, this guy is just shaking like a leaf because here's a guy from my hometown standing right next to me on the USS Enterprise in the middle of the Arabian Sea. It was incredible, incredibly moving still to this day.

Marcus: I can't even imagine. Kudos to you for keeping that organization running because I know it's not just a meal. You are really just reminding people of their home and why they're out there doing what they do which is extremely important.

Pete: To the new guys. We've got to tell them the food is just the vehicle. It's all about the interaction. I was in Romania 2 weeks ago just outside of Bucharest at a missile site. Those guys were so remote and just living in makeshift, not makeshift, the combinations weren't horrendous but basically a base overseas.

Marcus: It's not boarding yet.

Pete: It's all just new stuff that they built, new housings, and temporary stuff. They just loved it. We, myself and John Conneli, one of our newer chefs we brought in, we did a 30-hour stint with about an hour and a half in there where we did dinner and we did midrats, they call, which has been like rations from 11 to 1. Breakfast, we did beignets and bananas foster pancakes and green eggs and ham. Threw it down. We did carnitas the night before. It's just unbelievable. Cuban sandwiches and paninis and burgers. it's really cool. Literally, I've gone to Japan, Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany, Romania, GTMO.

Marcus: Did you ever think when you're going to the CIA, and keep in mind it's a culinary Institute of America, not Central Intelligence Agency. When you went to the CIA, did you ever think that it was going to lead you around the world?

Pete: No clue. I knew it was a great industry and you'd never go hungry. You can always have a job. Not only you're cooking but the hospitality industry you can always have a job. If you get to a certain level, you can say, "Do I wanna work in New York or LA or South Florida or Chicago or Dallas or Fairhope, Alabama?" You could pick. I had no idea where food would take me especially I'm an old man. I just turned 52 in Romania. I was on the base in Romania reading the guys for my 52nd birthday. I was 42 when I opened Panini Pete's. For all that to happen at this stage in my life is really incredible, very blessed.

Marcus: You mentioned age. I wouldn't have asked but since you mentioned it ...

Pete: I was wondering.

Marcus: I mean, 42 is not the age that most people would think is the age to start a business. Most people at 42 years old they have been working at their desk job for a number of years and have kids and a wife or a husband and are just looking forward to retirement. You took a chance and you started a business. What would you say to them, the entrepreneur, the business minded? I guess at this point in their stage, they may not be an entrepreneur or a business owner but somebody that's mindful of that or wants to go in that direction? What would you say to them? What bit of advice would you have for somebody that's at that stage?

Pete: Know your subject, know what you want to do. It's not the time to say I want to have my own business and pull a career change at a left field. Especially in my industry, you see a lot of that where people go, "I always wanted to be a chef. I throw great parties and make great lasagna and I'm going to go to culinary school for 6 weeks," and really they watch the Food Network and they think that's what our world is about and that's not. Know your subject and get all the help you can get and be willing to work your butt off and knowing that however much money you think you need, have a whole lot more.

My wife is a full-time school teacher. Without her salary and her insurance, I wouldn't have been able to step out and basically go broke. I worked my butt off in there for nothing for years to build that business one meal at a time. You just have to really do the research and ask a lot of questions. There's a lot of great resources out there. There's people you know. There's people that you know know.

Marcus: I was going to say, so my next question is if you know of any books or any other resources that you found helpful in starting or running your business. I know you have an extensive network of friends in the business, they can act as a resource to you. Beyond that, if somebody, maybe they're not going into a restaurant industry but they just want to start a business of their own, what resources have you found helpful? What books have you read that we're like, "Yeah, that's really thought provoking. I'm gonna give that to somebody," or they've just left you with some good information?

Pete: A great one is The E-Myth for all around entrepreneurship. The E-Myth is a great book that still resonates today. I like it because it's a woman who likes to bake pies and decides she wants to get into full business. It's food related but it's a great understanding the roles. Like right now I've got three restaurants. We opened Sunset Pointe in December, lunch and dinner, high end food and cocktails. I'm trying to run a restaurant company now. I'm trying to build a restaurant company now. I've got a partnership I'm working on right now to do another Panini Pete's in Destin, which is going to turn into really blowing of that brand. It's the partnership there.

I'm also looking at a property here in Mobile to do an Italian place, and media and other things that I'm doing, running the organization with the Messlords and being on the CIA Board now and co-chair in scholarship events for that, and travel periodically. I'm constantly growing and trying to learn. I'm reading a great book now called Who and it's about hiring great people, conscious corporation, and other things. There's a lot of great leadership books out there that will help you develop your own style of management leadership. You got great [crosstalk 00:20:33] with the show over there [inaudible 00:20:35]

Marcus: For those that are listening, I just pointed over my shoulder. I've got a bunch of books to help me. I'm an avid reader which is part of the reason why I asked the question because I'm looking for interesting books just somebody else has read and taken something away from. You mentioned The E-Myth. It's a book that I've often gifted to people and lest you think that it's E stands for electronic. It doesn't. The whole premise of the book is setting up processes for your business so that you're working on the business not in the business. There's a very fine line between those two things. I think I would second that that it's probably the top book that I would suggest to somebody that's moving in that direction.

Pete: I tell you work hard, develop that network of people, listen, and be grateful and be gracious. I mean I still do a lot of handwritten thank-you notes for stuff that people just the blows them away, especially in this area when people do things for you. I just spent the weekend judging at the World Championships of Barbecue in Lynchburg, Jack Daniels. I've got a little cards to write because there's a lot of people that helped that make that possible. What an incredible weekend to be part of that and you're going, "It's crazy barbecue culture, you know, and that Jack Daniels." On the hill, they put on heck of a party. What a great time. It's those little things that's just add up and you go, "Holy smokes, you know? What am I doing here? What am I doing here right now?" It's pretty awesome.

Marcus: In regards to the businesses, you mentioned opening up a store or a location in Destin. What's an area of the business that you're spending a lot of time or effort on right now? Is it people? Is it scouting locations? Is it marketing? What does that look like for you?

Pete: I'll tell you what I'm really working hard on now I just late last year I brought in a really good friend of mine Nick Damario that I've worked with often on for 25 years is to help be my director of operations and business partner and help grow the business. Our biggest thing right now is focusing on the bigger picture and developing those systems like you talked about in E-Myth. Even though I read a lot of those books. When I opened Panini Pete's, I just had a really tight grip on it. Some of the systems and paperwork, you get a little bit over. Everybody has that, "I don't want to be too corporate," but corporate, having systems and structures and consistencies and guidelines doesn't necessarily make new corporate.

Now that I'm growing, I have to standardize more. I learned not that the people I worked with directly for those first several years that I basically spoon-fed and taught them everything I needed them to know as I start growing. Now they're teaching second hand and now those are gone and it gets diluted and you realized, "Wow!" They're going, "When do I add the beans in that black bean soup." I said, "It says right here, ah, wow! It doesn't even say when to add the beans in the black bean soup." We're out showing people and nurturing them and I'd say recipes are guidelines and I'll teach you. It'll take you the neighborhood. I'll teach you how to get to the front door. Now I need to get him to the front door or close to it. We're really working hard on sharpening that saw and developing the systems so we can grow.

Marcus: That's really cool. Just going back to the Destin thing because I'm curious because we love to go over there. Is that sounds saying that's imminent?

Pete: Barring me screwing the deal, it's going to happen. I had a great meeting with one of the principals of, I could devote Fresh Hospitality as a company that's based in Birmingham and Nashville. They are behind the growth of Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q and Taziki's and Little Donkey and Octane Coffee and [crosstalk 00:24:11]

Marcus: Nice. Not bad names to be associated with.

Pete: A lot of these stuff. This guy Michael Bodder helped Jim 'N Nick's go from 1 to 30 something, and Taziki's from 3 to 50. He's a brilliant guy, a brilliant resource of information on that next level. I'm trying to gear up. We've been dancing for years and finally he's got a building over there that came available and he said, "You know, let's get serious about maybe doing business together because this is close enough to you. I think it's a good enough fit. I mean, it'd be the best place for you to start your first place but it's for the big scope of things, you know, let's do it."

Marcus: Destin is a very transient area so there's a lot of people that come from outside of the area and that would be a nice jumping off point for the North Easterner.

Pete: Demographics are good. It's a good building. The fact that I'm going to try to really hang our head on the quality that we do and drive that home and the fact that we do have some national exposure, that doesn't hurt at all, especially with what Guy's show has become. There's people that travel to go to diners, driving to [dives 00:25:18] and they seek them out and they check their books. I used to laugh really on and they'd come in, "Oh, my God. Let me get your picture [inaudible 00:25:26]." You go floundering. Now you just go hey. That's neat to them. You can't be on their parade. I tell the staff, "Man, it doesn't matter that you weren't here. Let him know, you know, it's good to have fun with it because they're having fun with it."

Marcus: This is something that I often ask folks that are in the restaurant industry. What is your idea of a great meal? Is there something specifically that you would want as your last meal. You're maybe not on your deathbed but you want this fantastic meal. What would that be?

Pete: Probably have to be, if it's not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich ...

Marcus: Come on.

Pete: I tell you, to me, I'm just still very comfort food oriented. Very few things satisfy me like a simple dish that's just prepared to properly with very good ingredients, very simply. I was reading an article once and I think it was an artist or an engineer that was talking about it. He goes, "Perfection is not, you know, in figuring out what else to add but it's getting to the point where you know there's nothing left to take away. It's down to its purest essence." Like a great spaghetti and meatballs, just sings to me.

Italian food is very much like that because I've worked with a lot of good Italian chefs and they even like an eggplant parmesan or something, when it's just simple and clean. San Marzano tomatoes and fresh eggplant and fresh avocados and breadcrumbs and a good pasta that's got a little bite to it. I'm telling you, those are the kind of things. I know you can get braised pork belly and seven course meals and molecular gastronomy. You think, "Wow."

Marcus: I'm not looking for that.

Pete: You want something that sings to your soul and you just just go. I think it's not even what's in the plate. It's where it takes you. That's like what we do with the troops. It's where does that foods in your mind. You go, "Oh, my God."

Marcus: The reason why I ask is because I would recognize that food isn't just what you're tasting, that there's some history to that you're also experiencing as well.

Pete: I think that for everybody. It's that one dish that just takes them somewhere. It transcends cultural boundaries and economics and all that stuff. It's there when we're born and when we die and when we're married and when we have birthdays. We celebrate everything with food. SEC weekends, all that good stuff, a lot of food.

Marcus: Give us a look at an average day for you. What does that look like?

Pete: For me it still gets pretty hectic. If I'm in town, I still be that I'm working on a lot of systems. I don't really even have an office. I work out at that day in my Tahoe and drive around. There's a lot of days that'll hit all three restaurants and some of them repeatedly which, to me, I'm always my worst critic. I have to get more efficient. My big thing now is planning the future and developing systems and growing the company. I still am up early now and just getting on emails, checking things out, checking in with Nick now and deciding where I need to go.

We have a little corporate office here in Mobile where my bookkeeper and controller work. I've got a little corner in there but it really doesn't work. I spend a lot of time running around. I still put up out too many fires and I'm still called Pete for everything. I'm working on trying to get more efficient. I do still cook a little bit and I love it but I kick myself in the butt, too, and go, "Man, this is not where my value is right now." I got to get beyond that.

Marcus: It's a difficult thing because it's obviously something that you love. You went into the industry for a reason, and so to not be able to do that but have to focus on all these other things. I get that that's like an internal battle at times. The best use of your time is probably the best way to put that.

Pete: We did a big catering last Saturday out of the Mobile store and I had my GM in Fairhope called me: "There's a lady who wants to do this thing." It's 170 people and it's a Saturday morning. There's no way we can do it because that store just cranks especially on Saturdays all day. I go, "Yeah, we could do it. We'll cook it in Mobile. I'll just drive it over." We had 25 panini trays and 25 gallons of tea and all of that stuff. I was in there with Chris and Nick and the guys. It was a blast. I went in there early, 6, and started building sandwiches and crank and I still got blisters on my knuckles because we were jamming that press so full of stuff and moving it around, 170 paninis. I had a blast and I still love that. I love the intensity and the rush when you're on the line that take it they're just coming. You're going, "Give me this. Give me this. Give me this." I love to be right in the middle of that.

Marcus: In the zone.

Pete: There's no place better for me.

Marcus: That's really cool. Going back to what you said just a minute ago about that you're still that lifeline to people. An interesting story: A buddy of mine, I have a mentor group much like you have in the restaurant industry. I am fortunate enough to have a couple of other friends in the web industry that I get to talk to. One guy, this past week said, "Yeah, I'm taking November off." I'm like, "What? He goes, "Well, what better way to figure out where are you're the bottleneck than to go and take a month off. Now they know they can contact me if there's a need but the idea is that if they contact me, then that's something that I know I need to work out, that that's something where I'm still the bottleneck." He's literally taking a month off with the idea that this is going to fix the organization to the point where he doesn't need to be around all that much. I was like, "That is so insane but I love it."

Pete: It makes sense. Imagine there's certain industries that you could pull that off.

Marcus: I'm not suggesting that you do that. I was reminded of that. I think it's interesting that oftentimes, as the business owners, we have so much in our head that we are oftentimes the bottleneck. It's always: "Hang on, how do I replace myself in this capacity? How do I replace myself in that capacity?" His was the extreme of, "Well I'm just gonna take a month off and figure out where people can't figure things out and then come back to it."

Pete: That is a big challenge. I'm there. I'm guilty of that a lot. Sometimes I'll just go, "Oh, man. You know, we need to get that done." They're like, "Hey, you know, you need to find out and I'm get in my own way a lot." I identify it and try to, like I tell everybody I don't mind having problems. I just want new problems. Let's just solve this and move on, whether it's approve vendors, approve repair guys, budgets for the managers, then say, "Okay. Within this realm, I can get this done. I can make that call, you know? And I just need to make sure I communicate. That's part of developing good systems.

It makes sense where I don't have to make every decision individually. I can make that decision once and create a policy that says, "This is how you need to conduct business if that happens," and not squabble over, "Oh, it might have killed us, you know? Man, you got that for 500 bucks. I could have got it for 325." Was $175 worth being closed for not being a business? Sometimes that happens when you have the financial pressure where you're focusing on the repair bill and what it costs or you're focusing on: "Are we gonna add those roofs," or you're focusing on: "I need to paint the Mobile building," and what it costs versus what it does for your business and gives you the opportunity to do business and hopefully make money.

Marcus: Tell people where they can find you. Obviously, you've named a couple of the restaurants. Give locations and also web addresses, Facebook pages, that kind of thing.

Pete: Come and see us, the flagship, Panini Pete's, Fairhope, in that little jewel of a French Quarter, on the corner of section of Delamar but it's back in that courtyard. There's two walking entrances, a beautiful place. We also have Sunset Pointe now in the Fly Creek Marina which is a mile and a half on Section Street, 831 North Section. Gorgeous place, beautiful waterfront dining, craft cocktails, great Gulf seafood and fresh produce.

Marcus: The best location for a sunset. There's a reason why you named it Sunset Pointe. It is phenomenal. My wife and I had dinner there like a month or so ago. I just kept getting up and going over and taking pictures because it is just beautiful.

Pete: It's amazing. We got bells that we ring and we toast the sunset every night. We get some really good ones and you look and everybody is lined up across the back. I love staying on the stairs and take pictures of all these people taking pictures. It is a beautiful place. I love to show that off to these people that say, "What the heck. You live in Alabama." Be it from Chicago or Fort Lauderdale or Alabama, they come here and they go, "Holy smokes. No wonder why you live here."

Then we got the downtown location here 102 Dauphin Street. I love that beautiful historic building. We're virtually on the corner of Royal and Dauphin, right across the Van Antwerp Building. Check us out at We've got Sunset Pointe with an E, That's coming online soon. Also Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, follow Panini Pete. I try to do a lot of that stuff when I'm out on Messlord trips, likes the judging at the Jack and doing all these crazy things and try to share that with everybody and some of the food and fun and experience and just keep posted. I'm working on a cookbook right now and a podcast but mainly opening restaurants and keep that going.

Marcus: Very cool. Any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Pete: I don't know. Just work hard, love what you do, and seek a lot of help and look beyond. Most of my mentors are all where I want to be or on the way to where I want to be. I don't have a lot of guys that I call that are where I've been. I have a lot of friends but it's funny I try to find these people that are very successful and gravitate, just watch and learn and ask a lot of questions. It's not necessarily people in the industry too. I love talking to people that are grinding like yourself and doing your thing. That's what we do. That's the heartbeat of America. Eat more paninis. Eat more beignets. Eat snapper throats and crab meatballs and all that good stuff.

Marcus: There you go.

Pete: I appreciate your business, everybody, and I appreciate your support. In vain of the Messlords and stuff is: "Hey, support your troops and thank them for what they do regardless of your politics or your standpoint on war. Those men and women are doing great things and they work their ass off for us day in and day out. Thank them. Give them jobs. Treat them well. Do what you can for them."

Marcus: I appreciate your willingness to come on the podcast and share your journey as a business owner. It's great talking with you.

Pete: Willingness? You said you're giving me 50 bucks.

Marcus: Come on, now. Fine.

Pete: I want cash. Great being here. Thank you.

Marcus: Absolutely.

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