My goddaughter is trying to figure out which college to attend. I keep saying that she should follow her interests so she will be happy with her chosen career. You just never know your true calling when you’re making these life changing decisions.
I thought about this when talking to Olive Theory Pizza owner John Kwok in his Downers Grove restaurant. John and his brother opened Olive Theory Pizza in October, 2015, after a lifetime in the restaurant business.
It wasn’t what their parents wanted them to do. After all, restaurants require long hours and have tremendous pressures. John grew up in his family’s Asian restaurant. Next door to his parents’ restaurant was a pizzeria which was his second home. There were a lot of kids running back and forth between the restaurants, hanging out while their parents ran the businesses.
Along the way the business got into his system. John went to college to study biology and psychology. After college, he went to work in downtown Chicago. No matter how hard he tried, though, the restaurant business kept calling his name. Eventually he gave in and opened Olive Theory Pizza with his brother Eric.
John thought he would keep his corporate position and run the restaurant as a side project. He found himself spending more and more time thinking about the restaurant and sitting in the restaurant working on his laptop. The restaurant became an all-consuming project. He quit his corporate position to focus on Olive Theory Pizza.
The restaurant is an engaging mix of family-friendly choices and adult options within a build-your-own pizza concept. Customers start with an 11-inch homemade dough waiting to be topped. They can choose a house pizza with names like Buddha’s Karma, Goldberg’s Big Five or Darwin’s Natural Selection. The more adventurous options allow customers to pick one of seven sauces before moving to five different cheeses.
When we visited, I skipped the meat to indulge in vegetables I don’t normally get to enjoy on my pizza. I went with black and green olives, and artichokes. I stared at the 14 different topings before going with Poseidon’s Blessing, a house blend of parmesan, oregano and sea salt. My personal pizza went into the brick oven where it baked for about three minutes. The oven floor reached temperatures ranging from 600 to 850 degrees Fahrenheit. The oven dome reaches more than 1000 degrees, allowing each pizza to cook quickly and thoroughly.
Our teenage daughters created more traditional cheese pizzas while my husband indulged in Darwin’s Natural Selection, a meat lover’s dream. When we were done, John treated us to fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. For those who are looking for something other than pizza, salad and sandwiches ensure that everyone has a freshly created meal.
Olive Theory Pizza doesn’t just create made-to-order delights for customers. The restaurant works closely with different nonprofit groups to help feed those who need a good meal. John & Eric give back to community groups by donating one pizza for every ten sold. John explained that those pizzas are a little different from the restaurant pizzas because they are often frozen until needed. Instead of the homemade crust, John found a premade crust that freezes nicely until the nonprofit bakes it. To date they have donated thousands of pizzas to local organizations.
I asked John what advice he would give to someone considering the restaurant business. He said, “I don’t see myself as a business owner, but as a problem solver. Don’t expect it to be part-time. It is full-time and then some.”
In addition, John said, “At the end of the day, you are running a business and you get to do it with people you like.” Still, John advised, “I always thought I could just keep working and never take a break. You have to find a balance between family and friends and cut out what is not important.”
It’s good advice for anyone thinking about their future career. Wherever your education takes you, remember to follow your passion, make time for family and friends, and do good in the world.
Shari writes about life with twins at Two Times the Fun. Image courtesy of Olive Theory Pizza.
Disclosure: We did receive complimentary meals during our visit. My words and opinions are my own.
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