On a recent weekday afternoon, Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon pulled out his phone and scanned the previous day’s manager’s report from one of his pizza restaurants.
Two pies had been cooked too long. Another had accidentally flipped over. One customer ordered dinner but then discovered she didn’t have any money; she canceled her order. And several customers who met Garcon in the store told the manager that he seemed like such a nice guy, “that they appreciated that this is more than just an investment for him.”
At this, Garcon put down his phone and smiled. The 28-year old wide receiver is nearly an equal partner in SpinFire, a “fast casual” pizza concept with one location in Ashburn and another in downtown Rossyln. He and his partner, Paisano’s CEO Fouad A. Qreitem, plan to open stores at Tysons Corner and Wheaton mall before the end of the year, and already are scouting locations in the District, while a franchise soon will open in Dubai, the first of six planned stores in UAE. Garcon has been talking to teammates about franchising locations in college towns, where they could leverage their local celebrity to attract customers. And Garcon said he plays an active role in the pizza-selling business: greeting customers, pitching potential franchisees, taste-testing new sauces, taking out the garbage, and yes, courting the media.
He has lost count of how many SpinFire shirts he owns. Friends say they can tell when he’s been working from the specks of flour on his clothes. He’s developed a knack for spinning pizza dough above his head; “when I’m not busy, I try to work on my skills,” he explained. And he’s already thinking about his next venture.
Sure, local athletes opening restaurants is nothing new. Joe Theismann won a Super Bowl; Kevin Grevey won an NBA title; Boog Powell won a World Series, and all three men put their names on their restaurants. But Garcon and Qreitem wanted SpinFire to spread beyond Washington, so they deliberately kept his name off the storefront. Their concept involved cooking pizzas in 90 seconds; they initially considered making it 88, in honor of Garcon’s number, but again decided it was best to keep pizza and football separate.
(By Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post)
And while Garcon has taken advantage of his football fame — bringing Redskins teammates to “Rookie Night” at the Ashburn location, hosting Ryan Kerrigan at the Rossyln store’s grand opening, promoting the restaurant on his social media accounts and even hiring DeSean Jackson’s cousin — he wants SpinFire to succeed on its merits.
“It’s not about myself or the team; it’s about something different, an actual business,” he said. “It’s not piggybacking off the Redskins; it’s not piggybacking off my name. This is going to be bigger than me. When I’m done, I want it to still keep going. One day we’ll probably sell this company, and then move on to the next thing. … I wouldn’t mind being in business for life.”
Garcon’s introduction to the restaurant industry came several years ago, when Qreitem was seeking a clean-cut athlete to endorse Paisano’s. An acquaintance set him up with Garcon, and as the receiver began pitching pizza, the two became friends. Qreitem was already working on his fast-casual pizza idea, a niche in which a host of local competitors have sprouted in recent years, and Garcon said he wanted in.
He knew nothing about the pizza industry; his favorite pie to that point was a Hawaiian stuffed crust. His retail experience came from high school: jobs selling popcorn at movie theaters, working as a stock boy at Winn-Dixie, and in the Dillard’s department store. He had no experience with getting permits, or supervising employees, or working with dome-shaped 900-degree Neapolitan ovens. But Garcon was risking his money on the project, so he spent time in the stores, read the e-mail chains, participated in the planning meetings, bought portable speakers as Christmas gifts for all his employees, and started experimenting with those ovens.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but he’s involved; he’s deeply, deeply involved,” Qreitem said. “It’s not a front. He’s not a face that we’re using to build a brand. If he left the Redskins today, he’s still my partner and this is still his business. … God bless his football career, but this is going to outlast his career. When football’s over, this is going to be his career.”
(By Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post)
Which is why Garcon looks at those reports on his phone, the ones that detail labor costs and store sales and daily events at both his restaurants.
“It’s like your stats,” Garcon said. “You saw how the store did, why someone burned a pizza, why soda sales are so low compared to pizza [sales], why the labor costs are so high. It’s the stats, just like why [one receiver’s] catches aren’t as much as such-and-such’s last year.”
Ah yes, that. You’ll recall that in 2013 — when Garcon caught 113 balls for 1,346 yards — we were debating whether he was a legit No. 1 receiver. Last year, the Redskins brought in DeSean Jackson, changed their head coach and their offense and switched quarterbacks as quickly as SpinFire makes pizzas. Garcon’s numbers plummeted to 68 catches for 752 yards, and no one was talking about that No. 1 receiver debate anymore. It was a jarring transition.
“Who you telling? I lived it. I went through it,” Garcon said. “I enjoy playing football; I’m having fun out there. But when you’re not winning and you’re not getting the ball, you know, I don’t have to say too much. … I always think of myself as a number one receiver, no matter what people say. I don’t listen to it, because I’ve been doubted my whole life.”
If he has doubters in the pizza world, though, it has been hard to tell. Sales at the newly opened Rossyln store already have passed sales at Ashburn, where the football connection is easier to make. The Post’s Going Out Guide recently sampled eight D.C. fast casual pizza spots; SpinFire finished second, as the “sleeper hit.” And when Garcon visits competing restaurants now, he takes mental notes about how the food looks, and how the employees interact with customers.
“Life takes us places we never thought we’d be,” he said.
Still, when I mentioned to Garcon that I was surprised not to find a single hint of his football career inside his Rosslyn store, he considered the idea.
“You could put my picture right in front of the oven,” he told Qreitem.
“Don’t give him any ideas,” Qreitem replied.
By Dan Steinberg | The Washington Post | May 26, 2015