Silvestrini’s recipe for success
Occasionally, Ric Silvestrini’s customers recognize him from his days as a WHO-TV sportscaster, which surprises him because he left the station in 1988.
“Being [sports director] was a lot of fun,” he said. “I covered five bowl games, I think. But I was tired. I wanted to try something else. Be my own boss.”
Silvestrini loved his job with WHO, he said, but he also grew weary of the 3 to 11 p.m. workdays and the pressure of constant deadlines. Once he decided he wanted to own his own business, he looked at several opportunities before acquiring the Storage Station in Clive.
“We never really thought about going anywhere else,” Silvestrini said of his decision to stay in Des Moines. “My family loves Des Moines. My wife has spent most of her life in the area, too.” The couple has a 6-year-old daughter.
In 1998 he opened Silvestrini’s Pizza on Merle Hay Road, and ran both the restaurant and the Storage Station for more than a year.
Silvestrini had grown up around his parents’ pizza parlor in Iron River, Mich. They had owned the restaurant since the 1950s, though they have since sold it and retired. When choosing a career path, Silvestrini said he wanted to get away from food service for a while, but it was mostly his enjoyment of broadcasting that took him in a different direction. Since leaving WHO, in fact, he has done some part-time broadcasting work, including a stint on the now-defunct sports radio station KJJC and his annual role as the public address announcer for the Iowa Girls’ State Basketball Tournament.
When Silvestrini decided to enter the pizza business, his parents gave him the family recipe and some useful advice.
“Without a great pizza recipe, you’re doomed,” he said. “My mother and father said, ‘Do the best you can to please the customers. Offering a quality product at a fair price is your greatest chance at success.'”
His biggest challenge, he said, was building an entire business from scratch. The Storage Station had been operating for some time when he purchased it. For Silvestrini’s Pizza, however, he had to create everything from the décor to the menu and build a customer base. The effort was all worth it for the freedom he’s gained, he said.
Silvestrini has recently been tasting success. He employs one person full time and more than 15 part-time workers. About seven months ago, he moved his restaurant from a building at 3015 Merle Hay Road that accommodated approximately 60 customers to one at 5418 Douglas Ave. that can hold about 100 people. This has allowed him to open his doors to larger groups, such as the Hoover High School girls’ swim team, which recently held its banquet there.
The restaurant doesn’t open until after 4:30 p.m. Silvestrini said he decided not to offer lunch for several reasons. His restaurant is not near many office buildings, and to serve customers quickly so they can return to work before their lunch hour ends doesn’t mesh well with his product.
“We make all of our pizza from scratch,” he said. “We don’t pre-make anything, so we can’t fill your order in five minutes.”
He is thinking about expanding his operation by offering catering services to corporate offices, however.
Silvestrini recently went toe to toe with the City of Des Moines over a proposal to increase liquor license fees. He tried to rally other restaurant and bar owners to fight the change, but was surprised how few cared. He argued the issue at four or five city council meetings. Although the increase was passed, he says he helped to make some changes in the ordinance and reduce some of the fees.
“I live in Des Moines, and I like it here,” he said. “We need more restaurants. I hope the city works to keep businesses here, and attract new ones. That’s part of why I fought the city on the liquor license. No one is going to decide where to put their business based solely on this, but if it’s cheaper in Clive, West Des Moines or Windsor Heights, that might be a factor.”