In the small strip mall of Trexlertown, Pa lies more restaurants and fast food places that you know what to do with. Among the hustle and bustle of all these restaurants is Picasso’s – a small, family-owned pizzeria. The décor isn’t overly done, like many Italian places, instead it lets the pizza’s on display and the big pizza ovens right up front, tell you it’s story (aside from some small Italian chef knick knacks on the counter). The ovens are classic looking and constantly in use – each time the door opens, it reveals the multiple pizzas that are still in the process of being baked. Customers can see the crust turning golden brown and the fresh cheese melt and start to bubble up while they are patiently waiting for their pizza to come out.
The smell of garlic meets me at the door, and only gets stronger the further I walk in. Geraldo is just taking a fresh batch of garlic knots out of the oven and soaking them in an extra layer of the oil and garlic mixture with a metal ladle. All the workers, clad in bright red shirts with “Picasso’s” written in white on the back, are just starting to slow down from the lunch rush. The pizza’s in the display case are half gone, but the case still looks full because of the sheer abundance of pies. As I sit down with Geraldo, co-owner of Picasso’s, a gleeful, slightly crooked smile spreads across his face. He wipes his hands on the once white rag he is holding then flings it on top of his shoulder and clasps his hands together on the table.
I chose to interview Geraldo because of the way he chooses to run his business. For a man that works insane hours and has to handle practically everything, he never lets his stress show (on the outside anyway). I remember working at an Italian restaurant one summer, and the owners (who were brothers, working six days a week, from open to close) definitely showed their stress. While it’s understandable to be stressed out, it makes it even more amazing that Geraldo is so laid back. He has a very go-with-the-flow demeanor, yet is able to upkeep a very professional atmosphere.
While Geraldo physically looks very similar to southern Italians (and in fact he has been mistaken as Italian) I am aware that he is actually Guatemalan, which peaks my first interest – why sell Italian food instead of Guatemalan food? Geraldo leans back in the booth and tells me, through a thick accent, that although he associates with being Guatemalan, he does have a little bit of Italian in him. He says:
“My grandfather was Italian and owned a pizzeria. I grew up watching him run it, and it made me want to own one myself.”
Geraldo tells me that his grandfather opened his own pizzeria, but when the family moved to New York, Geraldo and his brother took over the restaurant. Neither of them have had any formal training in cooking Italian food. Geraldo says:
“Our grandfather taught us how to cook the stuff on the menu. Then we came to Pennsylvania and moved the business down here.”
Without their grandfather’s help, Geraldo and his brother have been on their own and free to alter the menu and run the business the way they wanted. They kept a lot of the original recipes, like the perfectly spiced tomato sauce, and the pizza dough that crisps up just right in the oven. However, they also changed a lot. They added a lot of the specialty pizzas over the years to keep up with the changing customer demands. Geraldo offers up an example of this:
“When my grandfather was running his business, nobody was asking for a taco on a pizza. But people started asking for it, so we decided to add it to the menu.”
Geraldo and his brother have owned and ran the Picasso’s in Trexlertown for eight years now. I asked if owning a restaurant was how they imagined it. After pondering this question for a little, he shakes his head and says:
“No. I never imagined it would be like this. I thought it would be a lot easier. I never realized how much work my grandfather did behind the scenes.”
The process of opening one’s own restaurant is more work then many think. There’s the business aspect, filled with paperwork, finances, and ordering food in addition to the front of the house work that includes having good customer service, cooking, and training other employees. I wondered how it was possible for two people to handle all of this work. Just as I’m about to ask my next question, the phone rings and none of the employees are around. As Geraldo gets up to answer it, one of the long-term employees comes from the back, apron stained with tomato sauce, and answers it. Geraldo slowly sits back down, and I ask:
“What difficulties did you face when you first opened?”
Geraldo chuckles and explains how overworked he was by saying:
“I was working 7 days a week. Many times for twelve or fourteen hours a day.”
He also explains how working with his brother got stressful. He says that working with family gets to be more stressful then working with other, non-related employees because you’ve dealt with them your whole life, and when you butt heads not one person has more power.
“Not that it would matter”, Geraldo jokes, “I probably wouldn’t listen to him even if he did have more power; it’s just sibling rivalry.”
I asked how he deals with the constant sibling rivalry in the business, and he first responds with a slight laugh and “I don’t have a choice.” He then goes on to say that while it does get stressful, co-owning with his brother is also helpful.
“He’s my brother,” Geraldo says, “I know I can trust him, and he can trust me to make the best decisions for the business.”
With both brothers spending so much time in the actual restaurant, how does any paper work get done? Geraldo simply answers:
“We hire someone for that.”
I then asked if it was hard to save up all the money to first open their restaurant and shockingly, Geraldo said:
“No. I’ve been working my whole life. Plus you get loans and stuff, so you don’t have to pay everything all at once.”
I have always assumed that getting the money and business plan ready was the hardest part of opening a restaurant, but Geraldo has proved me wrong. He seemed to have no trouble with any of that, and instead describes the hardest part of the business being the front-of-the-house work.
I asked Geraldo how important quality is in his food, both quality in taste and quality in ingredients – making healthier food with quality ingredients or settling for the cheaper ingredients that produce less healthy-options? Geraldo explains by saying:
“You have to put a lot of money into it to get good food.”
He explains that he would rather spend more money to get quality food then get cheaper, lower-quality ingredients. In such a competitive area, he needs to stand out from the crowd and offer exceptional food to get noticed.
“I like to do healthy food,” he says, “but that’s not all I do. I do about half healthy and half regular.”
He picks up one of the delicious smelling garlic knots and brings it over. He explains that it’s always great to accommodate those who are more health-conscious by providing food for them, but there are also people who aren’t health-conscious at all. He says that while he likes providing healthy food, he knows that some food will suffer if he is committed to only do super healthy food. He lifts up the garlic knot and tells me to look at it.
“See all that oil on top? It’s not healthy, but it’s good,” he says, “If I tried to make healthy garlic knots I wouldn’t be able to use all the oil that makes it so good.”
I glance around at the counter and notice all the specialty pizzas. There’s vegetarian, taco, buffalo chicken, bruschetta,and so much more. There really is a pizza for everyone. Not only that, but they have other dinner options, ranging from lasagna and wraps to cheese steaks and stromboli.
“All of our food uses good ingredients,” Geraldo says, “it doesn’t matter how healthy the food is, we try to use fresh ingredients to make everything.”
It seems that Geraldo has accomplished what he wanted from Picasso’s. I decided to ask him what his favorite part of owning a restaurant was. He said that it was being his “own boss and not having to answer to anyone.”
When asked what was the worst part about owning a restaurant, he thought for a minute before saying:
“Dealing with all the mess-ups.”
He explained that running your own business is great, but there are downfalls. There will be mistakes, angry customers, and unprofessional employees. It’s part of any job, and while they try to minimize it as much as possible, it still happens. The hardest part is trying to keep everything under control.
I asked Geraldo what’s in store for the future of Picasso’s. He laughs and says:
“I want to open another one. Maybe sell this one to my brother, and open one just for myself.”
Geraldo then says he goes back and fourth.
“Some days I love this place, and some days I want to do something entirely different,” Geraldo explains.
I asked what else he would do and he answers with:
“I don’t know. I’d like to be a lawyer, or something that would let me move to different places, like a truck driver.”
Geraldo explains that while some days he loves his job, it gets discouraging at times.
Geraldo is only 25 years old and has managed to run a successful business. While he isn’t quite sure what will happen in the future he has several options and interests that could take him into many different fields. Picasso’s has been successful thus far, and the locals of Trexlertown can only hope that Picasso’s stays. As I wrap up the interview, a line is starting to form at the counter. The delivery driver is packing up his car with two large pizza boxes as new pizza’s are coming out of the oven with bubbling cheese. We stand up and shake hands then Geraldo hops behind the counter and gets right back to work.