By Laurelle Walsh
It’s not often that you hear of a business owner launching into a remodel to keep employees happy, but East 20 Pizza owner Ryan Clement says he’s doing it for the staff.
“This is all about employee satisfaction,” he says. “I’ve got a great staff and I want to keep them around.”
On busy nights, staff literally trip over each other building pizzas in the cramped 200-square-foot kitchen, says Clement. “The purpose of this remodel is to open up the kitchen. You start out with the intention of improving the work space and then other things come up,” he says.
Things like three new bathrooms, more indoor dining space, custom booths and tables, an expanded outdoor seating area, and better flow to move people, pizzas and drinks through the restaurant.
The key to a successful business, says Clement, is to find good people to work for you, pay them well and keep them around.
“In Winthrop especially, it’s an employee’s world. Business owners deal with a scarcity of good workers. For me, it’s a question of who am I going to find to make good pizzas and how do I keep them,” he says.
“I want my employees to have a sense of ownership and pride in their work, because I know that if we make a consistently great product, people will come.”
The evolution of a space
For his third expansion since opening East 20 in 2007, Clement worked with the Town of Winthrop and Okanogan County to redraw the lot lines, pushing out the building’s footprint to maximize available area, he says.
The original space was a 575-square-foot house Clement remodeled with the help of his then-landlord, George Baumgardner. Within Clement’s $10,000 opening budget, the two were able to redo the plumbing and add a deck and landscaping.
“George is my No. 1 mentor. There’s no way this place would be here without George,” Clement says.
The original restaurant was able to seat only 15 people. The first expansion, in 2009, was a small addition with new booths and counter seating on the south side of the building. A year later, the second expansion, which Clement calls the Dos Gallos project, was a small takeout taco shop built onto the former Burnt Finger building across the parking lot.
The taco shop lasted only two summers, but “it morphed” into a commercial production kitchen with a walk-in cooler that now serves as East 20’s takeout kitchen.
Clement purchased the East 20 building from Baumgardner last spring and began planning the current project. The third expansion adds 400 square feet onto the restaurant, eliminates the existing bathroom, incorporates that space into the kitchen, and pushes the pizza ovens back four feet.
And he’s just getting started. Construction on phase two will begin in autumn of 2014, paid for by investing the profits from next summer’s sales instead of getting a bank loan, he says.
In the next phase, Clement plans to rip off the front deck and expand the building onto that footprint. He then wants to build a deck above that addition accessed by an outdoor staircase, where customers can dine and enjoy the “killer” view of Mt. Gardner.
Other changes in the works include adding appetizers and expanding the salad menu, and adding a 10-keg under-counter refrigeration system. “My goal is to have the best selection of hard-to-find beers in North Central Washington,” Clement says.
Building a business
Clement was the first employee at Local Myth Pizza in Chelan when it opened in 1997. He learned the pizza business there under the tutelage of proprietor Art Sill, who “has been a huge influence and a father figure to me,” Clement says.
Now, six years into owning his own pizza restaurant, the 32-year-old says, “I’m in the prime of my working life, and I’m committed to working hard on this business. I don’t know what else I’d do with my life.”
Nonetheless, success can be overwhelming, he says. On busy summer nights the two kitchens regularly churn out 175 pizzas, “but there’s no reason why we can’t do more.”
He is aware that on nights when the parking lot is full of vehicles and every table is full, some locals may avoid stopping for pizza due to the crowd. “Locals should know that when they order from the takeout kitchen it takes 35 minutes to get a pizza, in and out,” he says.
“I’m humbled by the continued support of the community,” says Clement. “The thing we value most is honest feedback from our customers; it’s extremely important to listen to the locals.”
The restaurant will be closed during demolition between Jan. 15 and Feb. 1; however, everything on the menu will still be available from the takeout window, Clement emphasizes.
East 20 Pizza is located at 720 Highway 20 in Winthrop. Business hours are 3-8 p.m., seven days a week.