Fifteen years ago, Mike Niznik traded that ubiquitous green apron emblazoned with a mermaid for one of ours. After working his way through the ranks at Starbucks, he hit a wall and was ready for a change. Spend a few minutes talking to Mike about Pagliacci and you'll be ready to throw on an apron, roll up your sleeves and start tossing dough too. Not only is this Bridle Trails general manager deeply committed to making Pagliacci a great place to work, he's a champion for every crew member who sidles up to the prep line. Between ramping up daytime catering service and looking for new crew, we managed to find a break in Mike's schedule to talk about his Pagliacci tenure and what's kept him motivated all these years.
How did you end up working at Pagliacci?
I was at Starbucks for five years before coming to Pagliacci. That's where I got into management and ran my own stores. I had some success and liked a lot about the job. But then I started feeling like there wasn't a lot of opportunity to move up further. So, I went looking for a place where I could run a store and be valued; a place where I could be proud of what I was serving. [Pagliacci Founder] Dorene [Centioli-McTigue] and [her husband] Terry were regular customers at the first Starbucks I worked at as a barista. So I knew of Pagliacci and I knew it was a good company. When I heard that they were hiring and remembered that they were such good people, it clicked that I should work for them.
What's a day in your life usually like?
I try not to have it be typical. It's a trap that you can easily fall into in this type of job. You come in, prep, go through the rush, clean up and go home. I try to do all of those things each day and also throw in something new. I have to remind myself that I'm not just here to knock out production. That's the very basic level. That's the minimum. I try to teach someone something new each day or let someone do something that I could probably do better but let them learn how to do it better instead. If I'm the best at the store at everything, that's a problem. It's so satisfying when people come in for an interview and tell me that they don't know how to make pizza, but then we teach them and all of a sudden they're better than me.
What are you looking forward to now that you're settled in at Bridle Trails?
I spent five years at Juanita and five years at Ballinger and sometimes I'd get kind of jealous of managers who could stay at a location for a long time. But, also during those five years I remember feeling like I needed a new challenge. There's something to be said about keeping a beautiful location and running it forever, but that hasn't been what I've been asked to do. I've been asked to move around to different places and take over places that struggled, so it's a fun challenge that way too. The cool thing about being at a location for a long time is you get to hire these young people and you get to grow with them. It's been a while since I've experienced that. If I get to stay here for years, I'll look forward to watching these kids grow up and hire their friends and promote people. I also want Bridle Trails to achieve more in the coming year. I'd like to keep the momentum going and keep raising the bar.
When you're not leading the Bridle Trails crew, where can we find you?
Life changed a lot recently. About a year ago, my wife and I took in our first foster child. She went home to her mom after about six months. Then a few weeks later we took in two more. So right now I have a nine-month-old and a 20-month-old at home. My life is pretty full every moment I'm not here. My life is all about those guys now and thankfully so. It seems like every dollar and every free moment are all for those guys.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love my customers. When I drive home at the end of a long day and I’m tired, I’m thinking about all of the treats that I gave my people; all of the people who were glad they were my customers. I’m thinking about the crew and development and building a team. That’s what I find satisfying. On a day to day basis, it’s the customers who are so glad they came in and had their treat. On the more long-term scale, it’s the people, the relationships with crew members, the ones who moved on to other jobs or stayed with the company. I'm not just here to make pizza. It's a huge, important component of it but without the people, it's a whole different job.