When Margaret Lau looked for an accounting job back in 1986, she started with the Seattle Times classified section. That was still a thing back then. In 1986, Sir Mix-a-Lot did an interview with KIRO 7 about this new music called rap (“talking in rhythm to a strong beat”), Top Gun was the highest grossing movie, the Seahawks played in the Kingdome, and Pagliacci still did most accounting by hand. Pagliacci had one pizzeria in the U District, a trattoria on Broadway, and a full-service restaurant in Bellevue called Bravo. Pagliacci founder, Dorene Centioli-McTigue, interviewed Margaret and hired her to handle the company’s accounting. She had one assistant. During that first year, Margaret gave birth to her daughter, who is now 31 and lives in Washington, DC.
“Pagliacci has been really kind to me,” Margaret says. “Wonderful. They gave me the time to raise my daughter. I mean, seriously, when she was young, I worked the hours she was in school. The flexibility has been amazing. I couldn’t have stayed otherwise. Raising my daughter has always been my priority. They allowed me to put her first.”
Gradually Margaret started doing more of the accounting on computers. The office moved from a small Bellevue strip mall to a large Bellevue office tower. Dorene’s husband, Terry, ran his law firm out of the office by day, but at night he often got called into service greeting guests at the restaurant or tending the pizza ovens.
“The pizzeria sold cheese slices (The Original) for 99 cents, one two topping pizza, and a third more complex pizza,” Margaret remembers. “It was a few more years before we added the primo, with primo prices.”
The second pizzeria opened on Queen Anne and tested delivery service, with one person (Jun Kenney, aka the voice of Pagliacci) taking calls for pizza delivery. The company commissary, where the dough, sauce and other basics are prepared, was located in an old gas station building on Madison Street in the same spot where Pagliacci’s Madison store is currently located.
Delivery orders took off and Pagliacci opened a few delivery-only kitchens, which required a growing phone center, more commissary needs, and a bigger accounting operation. To consolidate operations, Pagliacci moved everyone to the building on Capitol Hill on Pike Street (the company offices and phone center are still there) in 1998.
“We moved to the present location during gay pride of that year,” Margaret says. “It was crazy. Of all the days, no one thought about it. Can you imagine that? The most challenging day to move around here.”
Computers made tracking expense details easier, but that didn’t necessarily make things easier for Margaret.
“Dorene had this thing that you’re telling the manager to reduce food costs, but you’re not telling them how,” Margaret says. “So she wanted to get the detail so she could show them why their food costs were too high. Learning the new program was a huge learning curve for me. Because when we decided upon that we were entering every ingredient—from the dough, to the cheese, to the sauce—I had to learn every ingredient. I had no idea what so many of them were. I had to learn all the cheeses, everything. I was always asking Dorene, What is this? What is this?”
In the 31 years Margaret has done accounting for Pagliacci, the company has grown from a single pizzeria to 26. The accounting department does everything by computer now. But one thing hasn’t changed: Margaret’s love of pizza.
“AGOG is my favorite, still my favorite,” Margaret says. “And the plain cheese. I love our plain cheese pizza. I don’t like too many things on a pizza. I think the true test of great pizza is just plain cheese pizza. The dough, the sauce, and the cheese, that’s it.”
The entire accounting department held a celebratory dinner at Canlis to honor Margaret’s many contributions to Pagliacci. Margaret’s cake, written in Italian, of course, read, “Margaret, ora che sei in pensione, non fare la pensionata!” (Margaret, now that you are retired, don’t be a retiree.)
Margaret’s husband—also from Malaysia, but they met while attending college in London—is a civil engineer by training. He has worked for the City of Bothell for 32 years and doesn’t yet have plans to retire. But Margaret doesn’t plan on waiting to start enjoying her free time.
“I’ll go off on my own to visit friends, to London and visit my friends from there, maybe to Australia,” Margaret says. “And when I’m in the city I walk—I’m very close to Kerry Park on Queen Anne hill—I truly love living in the city. I’ll be busy. I like to cook. I like to eat. I spend a lot of time on the computer. I go back to see my mom in Malaysia once a year. I fly to DC three times a year to see my daughter. We like to do at least one big hike a year. We just came back from Death Valley a few weeks ago. In August, we’re heading to Bend.”
Not that all of that isn't reason enough to retire, but it wasn’t a hasty decision. Margaret makes retiring sound like an act of mercy.
“One of the big reasons I’m retiring is I’m away too much now, and you can’t work like that. I travel to visit my mom for extended stays, and two years ago I dropped down to three days a week. If I were managing me, I’d be strangling that person.” Margaret pauses, before adding, “It’s time for me to go, but I’m going to miss the people. They’ve been very kind. They’ve let me do what I want to do. But it is time. I’m going to miss Matt and Michelle and all the great people I’ve worked with here.”
Well, Margaret, Pagliacci is going to miss you all that and then some. It’s been quite a journey.
The Accounting Team Wishing Margaret Goodbye at Canlis