This Pizza Restaurant Is Coming Soon. (This Time For Real!)

In February, two 20-somethings decided to open a pizza joint in downtown Springfield. They had the perfect pizza recipe. They had the perfect location. They had an experienced team behind them. And yet: They had no idea what kind of adventure they had just signed up for.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published September 10, 2012

Coming soon, the sign says, and everything feels like it’s just hours and days away. Soon — so full of optimism, of promise. It’s May, and there’s so much to celebrate. Jon Swisher, 24, and his girlfriend, Briana Mathews, 23, are coming up on their two-year anniversary. Jon has graduated from college. Briana is closing in on her degree. They feel ready to take on the world — together.

So together, they’ve decided to make the biggest leap of their lives. They have decided to open a pizza restaurant.

They find the perfect space, right downtown on Walnut, a few blocks off the square. They put the money down on a lease. They don’t have the money to open the place yet, but that’ll come. Briana’s stepfather, Chris Galloway, keeps telling them it’ll come.

They’ll call the place Pappos. In Latin, it means “to eat.”

What better name for two foodies who want nothing more than to bring to this corner of the Ozarks a pizza made with old-world craftsmanship?

They put a big sign in each of the store’s front windows, white letters on red text. On top, they write the name of the future restaurant. Below, they put those two little words.

Coming soon.

Those words will torture them, haunt them, inspire them.

Soon. They promise themselves that. It will be here. Together, they will build this restaurant. They will open it.

Soon is what they say as they keep pushing towards a fixed destination along an ever-changing timeline. Soon is not so much an answer as an aspiration. Soon is the source of their struggle and the reason for their hope.

Jon walks past those words every day. He will think about taking a Sharpie and marking in a little asterisk next to those words. Below them, he wants to tell the world how he feels.

Stop asking when we’ll open, he wants to say. Soon is a relative term.

¶ ¶ ¶

Outside the new pizza restaurant coming to downtown Springfield.
(Above) Outside the new pizza restaurant coming to downtown Springfield. (At top) Jon Swisher and Briana Mathews, the couple behind Pappos.

¶ ¶ ¶

Springfield, Mo., is a town that loves to eat — and eat out. There are more than 800 restaurants in this town, according to the city’s visitors bureau. This town treats food in the same way New York or Paris treats food: As a form of entertainment. Dining’s about the experience, not just the meal.

But unlike New York or Paris, Springfield isn’t a town with high-priced, multi-course, gourmet meals. There aren’t celebrity chefs here. Golden Corral and Cheddar’s are local favorites — assuming you can even get a table at lunch hour. They’re always packed.

Head downtown and the landscape changes for restaurants. Springfield officials aren’t shy about touting the progress that’s been made downtown. Businesses are moving in. Lofts are opening up. Thanks to a strong push from local universities, college students are starting to frequent downtown. In April 2011, the city noted in a strategic planning report that $410 million — from both public and private investors — has been pumped into the downtown area since 1997. A few dozen restaurants have started to take root — quirky places like Gailey’s for breakfast; Grad School for lunch; Aviary Cafe or Flame at night.

It’s here, in the heart of downtown, that the two young entrepreneurs — Briana and Jon — are trying to build something of their own.

Between them, there’s hardly a job they haven’t worked in the restaurant business. They’ve served tables, prepped food and baked. Briana even spent a year at culinary school. But neither has ever created a job in the restaurant business.

What they do have is ambition. They have that drive that young people have — to build something great, and especially to avoid life in a cubicle. Nationwide, 17 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are unemployed and looking for work — some four million young Americans. It’s an uncertain job market, and Briana and Jon do not want to end up like so many of those young people.

They want to build something that can last — for themselves, and for the city they currently call home.

“I want Pappos to be that place where people go, ‘Oh, you’ve got to check out Pappos. Their pizza is awesome,'” Briana says in May. “You go to Springfield, you go to Pappos.”

They have a goal: Get this place open by July 1. That’s still a few months away. They need some cash — $80,000 more just to get the doors open — but they’ve got some investors who are interested. From the day they get the check in hand, it’ll take a month to get the place open, they think.

The key is getting it open before Briana’s classes start back up in mid-August. They plan out a worst-case scenario: Pappos opens the first week of August. They’re already paying rent on a restaurant that doesn’t have funding, staff or kitchen equipment. Their money runs out in September.

“The meter’s ticking,” Jon says.

So they’ve got some work to do. They don’t know exactly what’s ahead for them, but they aren’t going into this completely blindly. They’ve got a support system in place — led by Chris at the Village Market — willing to offer advice and support. They’ve got a pizza recipe that sells.

But best of all, they have this space. It’s got room for 70 or 75 seated customers. It’s got big windows in the front, and a big bar. It’s got an open kitchen — perfect for letting customers sit back and watch homemade dough turn into dinner. A dark little Italian place, the Gallery Bistro, was here for more than a decade. Then it closed. Briana and Jon signed the lease before someone else could steal this spot from them. That was in February. Jon went straight to the printer and got two big signs for the windows. Might as well let everyone know what’s coming, they thought. They looked around their new storefront and made a decision: No matter what it took, they’d bring this place to life.

And their pizza would help them do it.

¶ ¶ ¶

Chris Galloway, the man behind the famed Pappos pizza.
Chris Galloway, the man behind the Pappos pizza.

¶ ¶ ¶

When Pappos does open, Briana and Jon hope customers will remember the service at Pappos and the ambience inside. But first and foremost, they hope customers will rave about the pizza itself.

The story of that pizza goes back to the early 1980s — and to Briana’s stepfather, Chris.

For as long as he can remember, Chris has been a Domino’s man. He started there working for $3.70 an hour. Then he started working his way up. Domino’s had a career ladder back then: Spend a year managing a store, find an owner to “sponsor” you, and you too can own your first Domino’s franchise. Chris followed the plan. In 1984, he opened his first Domino’s in Jefferson City, Mo. Four years later, he had 20 stores, 500 employees and $10 million per year in sales.

He was 29.

But the business wore on him. He got tired of being a Domino’s man, cranking out the same old pizzas for coupon-cutting families or drunk college kids.

“Franchises are frustrating because they find ways to cut corners on quality,” he says. “They control you. They don’t allow for a lot of innovation.”

He wanted out — and in 2002, he got out.

About the same time, he remarried. He had four kids from a previous marriage — Jamie, Warren, Michael and Hannah. His new bride, Melissa, had three — Tyler, Briana and Emily. They moved all seven of them under one roof in Fenton, Mo.

Briana and Chris butted heads. Briana was a daddy’s girl. Her dad was Greg Mathews, a former pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. She didn’t like being away from him. She was in middle school, and a rebel in the Galloway household. She wasn’t happy about her new home.

Meanwhile, Chris looked for life after Domino’s. He started playing in bands and finding small business opportunities on the side. At home, he threw himself into baking. He had an old Italian recipe for bread that had been passed down through his family — even Briana liked it. He became obsessed with pizza. Domino’s had squashed his creativity, he thought. He wanted to make a pizza that could show everyone what he could really do in the kitchen.

The problem was, his pizza wasn’t very good.

“Whenever I’d make pizza at home,” he says, “basically, it sucked.”

And then a new opportunity came along in 2010. Chris and Melissa had moved to the Lake of the Ozarks, central Missouri’s summertime playground. An investment opportunity got him excited. The place was called the Village Station, and it was a combination gas station, convenience store and restaurant. The property needed a new owner and a new direction.

Was Chris interested?

“This was an opportunity to do something special,” he says.

So Chris Galloway, the Domino’s man, got himself back into the game, this time for himself. He didn’t have the pizza recipe yet, but that would come. He told himself that it would come.

He threw himself into the pizza making. He tossed. He kneaded. He baked.

The pizza wasn’t right.

He hired a baker, Austin Teel, who had a background as a mechanic. They started working it like a chemistry experiment. You only change one thing in an experiment, Austin told him. Keep the rest constant. So they played with the variables. More water this time, more flour or olive oil the next. They tested like madmen. They scoured the Internet for pizza tips and ideas.

It still wasn’t right.

Chris started scrambling. It was days before the restaurant was set to open. This was his new restaurant, his big chance to show everyone that he was more than just a Domino’s man. And this was his product? This pizza that he’d spent almost a decade testing and couldn’t get right? This pizza that even his mechanic-turned-chef couldn’t figure out?

So Chris turned to the only man he had left in his corner. He was desperate.

Chris turned to the Lord.

He knows it sounds crazy now, but he swears it’s true. Lord, he said. I need these recipes. My neighbors, my customers — they’re watching. They’re waiting for these pizzas. Please help me.

And in turn, Chris says, a pizza recipe was handed down to him. It did not come to him in a dream or a vision. But in the final hours before the restaurant was set to open, he and Austin went into the kitchen and made a final batch of pizzas.

It was right.

“I’ve really gotta give credit to the Lord,” he says now. “I think my prayers were answered. And I really do mean that sincerely. It sounds crazy, but I really believe that something there spiritually happened to make that all happen.”

The place opened, this time as the Village Market. The pizza from the heavens sold. Customers came in for the Chicken Cholula, with hot sauce soaked into the chicken and cilantro baked on top. They came in for the Chicken Caesar, with dressing slathered across the crust. They came in for the Italian Tomato and Basil, with enough olive oil and garlic to make his Italian ancestors proud.

They made bread and dough every day from scratch. They made their own sauce, with fresh garlic and basil. They cooked on big deck ovens, the kind that leave a crust brown and bubbly and light. This pizza wouldn’t be anything like Domino’s, Chris promised himself.

It wasn’t, and customers noticed. It sold well right from the start. The pizza wasn’t cheap — at $16 to $20 for a large pie, a single Village Market pizza was what the chains sell a couple of pizzas for — but customers came anyway. [1]

Then customers started asking Chris: When is this pizza going to come elsewhere? When will you start expanding?

“All of a sudden,” he says, “there was this epiphany that happened to take this product into other places.”

One of the biggest supporters of his pizza was — much to his surprise — Briana. They’d fought when she was younger, but she’d grown up. She’d gone to culinary school, and she’d developed a reputation as a foodie — just like him. They didn’t agree on much, but they agreed on this pizza.

So did Briana’s boyfriend, Jon. They both raved about the pizza. And about the time Chris started thinking about expanding the Village Market to other locations, Briana and Jon started pressing Chris on the idea of making Springfield the first franchise.

We need this, they said. Springfield needs this pizza.

It sounded like a reasonable pitch, Chris thought.

He started thinking about a name for the place. The Village Market didn’t seem right for restaurant without a market attached. He thought about the nickname that Mariah, his granddaughter, had given him: “Pappo Chris.” He looked up the word. Turned out “pappo” also meant “to eat” in Latin.

Pappos it was.

He started looking for locations in Springfield. There was one promising location downtown, but it was too big. He was scrolling through Craigslist when he saw an ad for the newly available Gallery Bistro space. He sent Briana and Jon to check it out.

“They both said, ‘Yes, this is it,'” he remembers. “This is where you want to be.”

Then they said something else that surprised him: We should be the ones running this place.

It was another epiphany, Chris says. It made sense. Briana and Jon could take care of the day-to-day stuff. They had the drive. They had the ambition. They had this pizza, this recipe that customers were begging him to bring to all corners of Missouri.

And worst-case scenario, they had him. He could always swoop and save the day if necessary.

Chris said yes. Let’s start our first franchise in Springfield. You two can run it.

¶ ¶ ¶

The Pappos kitchen on May 10
The Pappos kitchen on May 10.

¶ ¶ ¶

There is grease stuck to the ceiling of their new restaurant. There is grease caked on the floor. There are boxes and boxes of milk cartons — 10 years worth of receipts inside — that the previous owner had neglected to take with him when his restaurant closed. The A/C unit is leaking through the back walls. It’s early May.

“We knew we were going to have to be in there a lot and doing a lot of work, but after a few weeks of this, we just had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” Briana says. “The amount of work — it was just something new every day.”

They feel the pressure to prove to Chris that they’re the right people to start this restaurant. They throw themselves into the work. Respect is earned through work, they tell themselves.

But others in Springfield aren’t so patient. There’s a little box outside the door for job seekers. The box keeps filling up. The salesmen from equipment companies and food providers keep stopping by. Vultures, Jon calls them. All the traffic is coming thanks to those two signs in the windows.

They push on. The place starts to look like a restaurant, not just a endless list of to-do’s. When they signed the lease, their focus was long term, but now they’re getting bogged down in the day-to-day details. Chris is supporting the new Springfield location with money from the Village Market. They need new money soon. Chris and Melissa, Briana’s parents, promise to kick in $10,000. Patty and Mike, Jon’s parents, promise another $10,000.

But they need more. To get this place open, Pappos has two options: Get the money from a private investor, or get a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. They need another $80,000.

Chris starts talking to investors. The SBA takes time to hand over the check. Investors can move faster. But the initial results of the investor search aren’t promising. Some want their money back — guaranteed. Some want a sizable cut of all profits, one Chris deems too large. Investor after investor falls through.

Still, Briana and Jon are optimistic. The restaurant is starting to come together. They’ve repainted the walls. Jon’s personally reupholstered all of the chairs in the restaurant. They’ve cleaned out the messy basement and closet space.

It feels like something is taking shape.

“It’s coming around,” Jon says. “It’s a time process. We definitely didn’t think it was going to take as much time as it did. But as we’re going, I’d say we’re growing up. We’re realizing that it’s a bigger thing than what we thought initially going in. So now we’re coming to the realization that it’s going to open, but we’re taking our time with it. We want everything to be just right. We don’t want to open too fast.”

¶ ¶ ¶

Talk to enough restaurant owners and a common number eventually pops up: Nine out of 10 new restaurants fail.

That number’s something of a myth, it turns out. According to a 2007 study, only 25 percent of businesses fail within the first year, and three out of five fail within the first three years.

Briana and Jon are aware of the stats. That’s why they’ve started to grow their team, relying upon consultants and friends to help them avoid the mistakes that new restaurant owners often make.

One new member of their team is Dustin Ross, a consultant with BizPros LLC in Marshfield, Mo. Managing businesses is his life. He started at age 21, managing an O’Charley’s in Stillwater, Okla. He managed a chain of chicken joints here in Springfield, and then two Old Chicagos in the area.

At BizPros, he works with restaurant owners like Briana and Jon. His goal is help Pappos get an SBA loan, but to do it, they’ll need to get their budget set, line by line. They need to know everything, because the SBA will ask them everything.

Cleaning supplies alone will cost $3,500 per year, Dustin tells them.

Just thinking about the numbers, Dustin thinks Briana and Jon look sick.

But it’s a face that Dustin’s seen before. Entrepreneurs have to start somewhere, and many of them are choosing to start right here in Missouri. This is the sixth most entrepreneurial state in the nation, according to a 2012 study by the Kauffman Foundation. Forbes named Springfield the forty-second best place to start a business or career, just ahead of cities like Indianapolis and Little Rock, Ark. Especially attractive was Springfield’s cost of doing business — the city ranked 14th on Forbes’ list.

Springfield’s as good a place as any to try to start a business, Dustin thinks. If Briana and Jon had more business experience, they’d have the money they need already, he believes. But they have Chris, and Dustin can help them get their budget and paperwork in order for the SBA.

“Their eyes are as big as saucers sometimes,” he says. “They go, ‘Oh, man.’ But at the end of that, if people still want to do this, then they’ve got the passion for it. And these two kids have the passion for this.”

Passion’s what they’ll need if they want to survive that crazy first year, says Danny Schlink, owner of Springfield restaurants Grad School and J.O.B. Once the doors open, things get crazy quickly.

“There’s not much like getting killed in a restaurant for 12 hours,” he says, “and then turning around and doing it the next day and the next day and the next day.”

He knows the experience well. Four years ago, he decided to open Grad School, a griddle-top burger place, with a loan from the SBA. He didn’t have the team that Briana and Jon have, but he found help via the Small Business & Technology Development Center at Missouri State. They helped him get the paperwork ready.

The SBA doesn’t take loan applications directly. Instead, it works through local banks. A bank handles the application, and if it’s approved, the paperwork moves on to the SBA, which gives the final go-ahead. The SBA covers much of the risk on the loan, which banks like. If the investment fails, the SBA makes sure the failure isn’t all that costly for a bank.

But the loan applicant still needs to put up collateral. Danny put everything he had on the table: his car and some cash. If his restaurant failed, they’d take both from him.

Even that wasn’t enough. He submitted his SBA application to more than 20 banks in the Springfield area. All said no. Nobody wanted to take a chance on a first-time restaurant owner.

“It’s incredibly disheartening,” he says, looking back now.

But all it takes is one bank to say yes. Liberty Bank liked what they heard, and the SBA agreed. They handed him $50,000.

“Money is the only thing that matters,” he says. “If you don’t have it, you can’t do anything. All the effort, all the planning in the world doesn’t get you past being undercapitalized.”

He’s seen that with Briana and Jon firsthand. Danny’s girlfriend knows the couple, and they all got to talking a few months back. Danny offers help where he can, but he’s hesitant to offer unsolicited advice. Some mistakes you have to make for yourself, he says.

But remember, he says: “It’s not nearly as scary doing it as not doing it.” Better to live with lessons and regret than none at all.

He’s heard about their money problems. They’ve done it a strange way: Getting the location first, then the money. They’re paying rent before they have the cash to start up the business itself. He’s hoping that someone — an investor, the SBA — steps up.

“I really wish the best for them,” he says. “I hope they get the doors open.”

¶ ¶ ¶

The Chicken Cholula pizza at the Village Market.
The Chicken Cholula pizza at the Village Market.

¶ ¶ ¶

With Dustin’s help, Briana and Chris get a meeting with a bank to discuss an SBA loan. It’s with Liberty Bank, the same place that first gave Grad School a chance. They go through the budget line by line, talking about the numbers and how competition in Springfield stacks up against Pappos. The bank sounds impressed, Jon thinks. They seem to think the numbers all look realistic. They hand Briana and Jon a formal application to work on.

The month of May is almost over, but they finally have the SBA loan application in their hands.

“We have an open mind about it,” Briana says a few days after the meeting. “Anything could happen. This seems promising, but if it doesn’t work out, we’ll move on to the next option.”

The good news is, there’s no major collateral on the table for this loan, just cash. “If this thing goes under, our family isn’t going to be uprooted and moved into a mobile home,” Jon jokes. Their reputations are on the line, but that’s all.

There’s some dread and anxiety in their voices as they talk about the SBA process, but not much. They’ve never applied for a bank loan before. They’ve never been rejected by a bank before. They’re not sure what to expect.

“Not knowing the full extent of how wrong something could go probably makes our lives just a little bit easier,” Jon says. He’s right. It’s a case where their naïveté can be a strength. Instead of worrying, they’re focusing on the restaurant and getting things in here ready.

Chris is calling often, telling them that he might have a new investor on the line. That gets the Pappos team excited. Briana and Jon start entertaining the thought of a second location, a delivery place they could open after the first one gets big.

But Dustin’s also feeding them the worst-case scenarios. Jon calls him the doomsday guy, telling them what could go wrong and where they could fall.

“It’s something we need to think about,” Briana says. “Hopefully it won’t happen, but if it does, where are we going to go from here? What are we going to do?”

Jon admits that he’s been letting the thought dangle. He’s got a “Move Back In” card he can still play with his parents, and he’s got a background in construction that he can turn to. Briana would focus on school full time if this placed closed.

Still, they’re excited about their product at Pappos. That’s their biggest selling point, and if they get this place open, they think it’ll be a hit.

“I feel really confident in this pizza,” she says. “I really think it’ll do well. This is something that Springfield needs.”

¶ ¶ ¶

The Pappos kitchen on July 12. Painting's in progress.
The Pappos kitchen on July 12. Painting’s in progress.

¶ ¶ ¶

It’s June. Jon gets a call from the bank. Your restaurant doesn’t look financially strong enough to put into the portfolio, the bank says. It’s another setback. Chris’s investors have fallen through again, and now the bank’s saying no, too.

“We just gotta keep going, I guess,” Jon says. “So that’s where we we’re at. Bri and I probably both thought, in our minds, we both definitely thought it was going to happen faster, and that we had a little bit more set in stone before we jumped in. And then we found out that pretty much that we were standing on wet concrete. And now we’re just dancing around trying not to get stuck in it.”

Dustin goes in and talks to the bank. What they’re really saying, it turns out, is that the bank’s not entirely sold on Briana and Jon. They want Chris to be formally involved, and they want more collateral on the table.

Briana and Jon put their cars up as collateral, but that’s not enough, the bank says.

Jon calls his mother, Patty. She’s a math teacher at Mexico High School in Mexico, Mo. Could you co-sign the loan? he asks. She’d have to add the family’s house in Mexico as collateral. If this restaurant goes under, the bank can take it from them.

Patty starts thinking about what Jon’s facing. He wasn’t always the most tactful kid growing up, she says. He’d argue with teachers in class. He got in trouble often for voicing his opinion.

But she’s also seen him mature. He’s found that tact, she says, and he’s willing to stand up for himself. If something goes wrong with the restaurant, she tells herself, he won’t sink alone. He’ll turn to others for help.

Having Chris around gives her some peace of mind. They need that extra guidance, she thinks. Then she sees the location for the new Pappos. She looks around at what’s downtown and where Pappos could fit in. This is gonna go, she thinks.

Patty thinks about the way her family supported her when she was coming out of school. The road ahead can be strange, she knows.

It’s why she’s always told Jon: You don’t give up on things you want. When he announced that he was moving to Springfield to study architecture at Drury University, the family supported him. When he decided to focus on construction management instead, they said okay. When he announced that he was opening a restaurant with Briana, they told him they’d help. Patty said she’d take time off at school to help at the restaurant. Whatever it takes to help Jon get the things he wants.

Patty makes a decision: She’ll co-sign the SBA paperwork.

“It never really was a question to me. Now my husband on the other hand, he’s like, We sure?” she says. She puts her foot down: “I’m here to support my kid. This is him. Now, if I didn’t think he could make a success of it, I wouldn’t put in for it. But I have faith in Jon that whatever he’s going to commit to, he’s going to make it go.”

With Patty on board, and a management plan from Chris added to the paperwork, they resubmit their application to the bank. But time’s starting to run short. Briana takes a job at Springfield Brewing Company, a few blocks west of Pappos. She needs the cash to keep paying bills. Jon starts to feel trapped. He’s in limbo. He’s got a storefront but no money. He’s got a job title but no work.

Chris keeps talking about potential investors, but none have come through. None have even visited the property. The SBA loan — round II — starts to seem like the way forward.

“It kind of sucks it’s not open,” Jon admits. “Everywhere we go out, every time we go out anywhere, the second someone asks us what we do, we tell them we’re opening this restaurant, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God! You’re opening up that restaurant? That’s you guys? I can’t wait to come in!’ Every random person we run into says, ‘We can’t wait to have a pizza restaurant downtown.'”

But it’s not there yet. Every step forward seems to bring more complication. If the bank says yes this time, the restaurant can open within a month’s time. But they’re not sure when that might happen.

“I’m definitely frustrated,” Briana says. “It’s like a tease. It’s like, ‘Oh, yes! Maybe we can actually start.’ And then something always happens. We’ve already invested so much into this. I would hate for this not to work out. But I still have faith it in.”

So does Jon. He’s waking up every day, coming to the store to do little things — working on chairs, cleaning, painting. Little victories, all of them. The support from friends and strangers keeps him moving. He knows the pizza’s still selling great at the Lake. It’s already successful, he thinks.

But it’s tough to stay upbeat. Everything’s taking so much time — too much time.

He walks around the restaurant sometimes, sitting in the chairs, envisioning the atmosphere. What if we turn the chairs this way? he asks himself. What if we swing the tables that way?

He thinks about a restaurant where he worked a few years back: Paradise Tropical Restaurant, a place at the Lake of the Ozarks. In summer 2010, it was chaos. The restaurant had three floors, and the kitchen was on the top one. Jon worked the docks, keeping track of the boats coming in off the lake.

He started to notice a new server at Paradise: Briana. He noticed her tattoos first. There was a line of music — something from Stravinsky’s “The Right of Spring” — on the inside of her right forearm. He thought it looked classy.

They found each other at a party a few weeks later, an annual employee thing at a place called Shorty Pants. They kissed. It was a summer romance — “Grease” meets the Midwest. He was the lake rat. She was the city girl.

“He was exactly what I needed at that time,” Briana says. “He kind of just helped me just relax and enjoy life and summer. I’m very OCD and controlling, but he helped me break out of my shell a little bit, and I helped him calm down a lot.”

When Briana decided to move to Springfield for school, the romance continued. One restaurant brought them together. Now a new restaurant, Pappos, is bringing them even closer.

But without the money to open, their own finances become a concern. Coming soon? By now, it’s a cruel tease. Things just aren’t breaking the way Jon wants them to.

“I’m more of a luck guy than a fate guy,” he says. “Luck and patience are your two best things in life. Because everyone gets lucky.”

But you can’t expect luck. You can’t depend on it as a savior.

“You have to be patient enough to wait for that lucky moment,” he continues, “and then be smart enough to take advantage, to see that moment and seize it.”

And then, finally, a few days after the 4th of July, good news shows up on Walnut Street.

¶ ¶ ¶

Chris Galloway makes a pizza at the Village Market.
Chris Galloway makes a pizza at the Village Market.

¶ ¶ ¶

Liberty Bank approves their application. It’s a huge break for Pappos, but it’s not a breakthrough. The SBA itself needs to approve the loan, and Dustin’s telling Briana and Jon that the SBA is backed up. It could take up to 90 days to approve the loan, and they know that it’ll take a month from that point to get the restaurant open.

At that pace, Pappos won’t open until winter. Best-case scenario: a Sept. 1 opening day.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen as soon as we planned it to, but I didn’t realize that it was going to be so difficult to get the money,” Briana says. “I thought we had a great idea, and the restaurant was here. All we had to do was clean and paint, do the little things. I thought we were going to get the money a lot sooner. It’s not the case at all.”

Maybe they were too optimistic, she admits. Maybe they were foolish. But they know now what they’re up against. Money will come — eventually. It’s out of their control, she says.

They’re out of limbo and straight into purgatory. They’re not clear of this mess yet.

They haven’t shut the door on a non-SBA investment, either. There’s a new investor interested in Pappos. It’s a funny coincidence, Jon says. He’s got a friend from the Lake named Josh. “He’s one of those friends, you don’t really know how you met, you’ve just been friends for four or five years,” Jon says. Turns out Josh’s dad used to own a Domino’s down in Bolivar, Mo. He’s been out of the business for a while, but he loves pizza, and he’d seen the “Coming Soon” signs in the window. So he asked Josh if he’d heard anything about this Pappos place.

Yeah, Josh said. I know the guys running it.

He passed along Jon’s phone number, and they talked. He’ll come by later today — July 12.

His name’s Gary, Jon says. Of all the investors they’ve talked about, he’ll be the first to actually visit the property.

¶ ¶ ¶

The money never comes easy. Gary Fenton knows that firsthand.

He was only 23 when, like Chris, he was offered the chance to own his own Domino’s franchise.

He didn’t quite have the money, though. He’d been going to Southwest Missouri State [2], but he dropped out. He’d been working as a driver at Domino’s, but that only paid so much. So he starting managing at one of the Springfield locations, and he started saving. With that money and a loan from the SBA, he got the funds — and opened his first store in Bolivar, Mo.

He wanted to expand and get more stores, but Springfield was saturated with Domino’s. The franchise wasn’t interested in expanding here.

So he found a buyer and sold his store. In the pizza business, he’d gotten interested in accounting. He went back to school to become a CPA. In 2003, he started his own accounting business. He was the sole employee. The business grew to a staff of six.

But he never stopped thinking about his old Domino’s. He never got the chance to expand his pizza empire. He really wanted another one.

And all these years later, he finally had the money to own another one.

Then he sees the “Coming Soon” sign downtown. He asks Josh about the store, and Josh connects him to Briana and Jon. He goes in just hoping to offer help or advice. Then Briana mentions that her stepfather is Chris Galloway.

Gary’s ears perk up. He knows Chris, the guy who actually did build a mini pizza empire in Missouri. They talk some more, and then Gary decides to pay Chris a visit at the Lake.

They get along immediately. Both are driven, both have the Domino’s background and both like to make their own pizzas at home. They talk a little about what’s happening now at the Village Market and a lot about what could happen for a future Pappos franchise.

They make a few pizzas. Gary makes sure to try the supreme pizza — it goes by many names at other places, but it’s always the one with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers.

“Any place that does that pizza well does most pizzas well,” he says.

It only takes a few bites to figure out that they do it really well.

He’s impressed by Briana and Jon, too. He knows what they’re going through. He was their age when he opened his Domino’s. He knows that it takes longer to open a store than you think. It takes more money than you think.

“It’s tough when you’re 23 or 24 and you’re trying to do something,” he says.

He loves their attitude. You need confidence and energy to make a restaurant work. Jon, in particular, impresses him. Briana’s plan is to be the face of Pappos, staying up front, dealing with customers. Jon will be the engine in the back.

With that team on the ground in Springfield, and Chris taking a hands-on role in the restaurant, Gary’s close to saying yes. Chris sends him some paperwork.

Gary leaves for Colorado for a few days to go mountain biking across the Rockies. He’s thinking about Pappos the whole way. He loves the location on Walnut. He’s a big fan of downtown. If he comes on board, he can take care of the payroll and books for Pappos, which will free up the team at the restaurant to focus on product and service.

As a CPA, he’s seen restaurants open and close. He’s got a radar for restaurant owners whose stores aren’t built to last. Pappos’ vital signs — their team, their product, their location — all look good.

“I’ve been around enough,” he says. “You can just tell, I can just tell when someone can do well or not. I think they will. I hope they do. I hope for their sakes that they do.”

He gives the team the call when he gets back from Colorado. He’s in.

It’s the first week of August.

One call changes everything for Pappos. Suddenly, an opening day in early fall is a possibility. They won’t need an SBA loan anymore, which means Jon’s parents can sleep easy knowing that their home doesn’t depend on the success of their son’s restaurant.

Plus, with Gary now on the team, Briana and Jon have yet another advisor to bounce ideas off of. Getting to opening day — and beyond — could be that much easier with another ex-restaurant guy on board.

“We expect a fast start here,” Gary says. “I guess the good thing about the sign being up in the window for the last five months is people are wondering when this thing is going to open. We hear that all the time. I see people downtown, and they’re like, ‘I don’t know if that thing is going to open.’”

So when it is opening? “Shouldn’t be very long,” he says. This time, soon seems like a reality.

¶ ¶ ¶


Briana and Jon on Aug. 12, inside a kitchen that’s starting to come together.

¶ ¶ ¶

It’s the end of August, and the team’s almost ready to get moving. There’s so much left to do. All of the equipment needs to be ordered. [3] They need to start hiring staff. They want to commission original works of art from local artists, small tributes to the city that will hang on the walls.

They’re going to start calling in favors. Michael, Briana’s stepbrother, is going to come down to help them manage the store for a few weeks. Chris will be down in Springfield maybe a third of the time, they’re guessing, so having Michael — the current manager at the Village Market — on hand should ease the transition. Michael’s got two goals in mind: good product and good service. If they nail those, he says, Pappos can be a hit.

They’re going to reach out to friends and relatives for help. An uncle in St. Louis does electrical work. A friend has volunteered to paint the Pappos logo above the bar.

They’ve also got an ally in the food business. They’ll be getting their food from Sysco, a national distributor. In 2011, Briana nannied for a little boy in Springfield named Jack. His father just happens to be Briana’s and Jon’s Sysco contact.

They feel lucky to have all this help. Without it, they’re not sure where they’d be.

Maybe out of business, they admit.

No one’s quite sure how it’ll work with Briana and Jon once the doors open. This restaurant will put their relationship under the microscope. They’ve worked at the same restaurant, Paradise, but never together. They’re optimistic, as always, about how it’ll play out. It’ll be fun to work together, they say. And if something goes wrong, the ownership structure they’ve recently drawn up gives them an out.

“Everything that we have in this restaurant is separate,” Briana says. “We have our own ownership. We have our own money that’s being [put into this]. So everything is separate right now. So if anything happened, God forbid, it wouldn’t affect the restaurant at all.”

Down the road at Grad School, Danny’s nervous about how it’ll all come together once Pappos opens.

“I would hope their relationship is very strong,” he says. “When you get two heads making a decision, oftentimes it becomes very difficult.”

Factor in Chris’s influence [4] and it could very interesting. But so far, Chris has stayed mostly hands off. He’s let them make their own mistakes. He’s let them learn from the process.

“I knew there were some roadblocks that had occurred and were occurring,” he says, “and I purposefully didn’t jump in and put my Superman cape on and go solve the problem.”

They still haven’t hit the hard part — not even close. There will come a time, he says, when the orders at the new place pile up, when the stress builds. He calls that moment of ultimate chaos being “blown away.” They’ll understand it when it happens, he says. He’s confident that they’ll keep at it even when it does.

Briana and Jon aren’t typical restaurant owners. They’re trying to bust their way onto the crowded Springfield restaurant scene, and they’re backed by a big list of supporters and advisors. They’ve got a lot to work for. But it’s their personal goals that they’re trying to put first.

For Jon, Pappos is about having something to call his own. His friends are starting to get promotions and new opportunities. He wants it too, that thing that he can show off as his. He wants to be able to show his work.

“Now’s going to be the real test of what I can do,” he says.

The same is true for Briana. But she’s also ready to prove that she can finish what she started. She went to culinary school for a year but didn’t finish. She’s still working on her college degree. She loved music as a young girl, but all she has to show for it now is the tattoo on her right arm. It’s time for her to cross something big off the bucket list.

“Some people, it seems everything just magically falls into place,” she says. “For me, I have to constantly keep fighting and working hard at it.”

Together, all that hard work will get Pappos to opening day. But Chris isn’t satisfied with one store. He wants more. He wants to make Pappos big — and he wants to use the Springfield store to show just how big it can be.

“I see a big future for Jon and Briana,” he says. “If they want to own five, 10 stores themselves, or maybe they want to be part of the company as it grows. We want to open 50 or 100 of these Pappos. But we’re anti-franchise. Even if we do have a franchise structure, we’re going to be the anti-franchise franchise. We’re going to have the kind of quality that a passionate individual would have. We’re going to treat people with respect and give people opportunities and support and encourage people.”

For now, there’s just the one store, and it’s so close to being ready. They can see this place opening, they say. They know what their pizza smells like, and they can’t wait to smell it here.

Springfield is waiting for this pizza, they know. It’s finally coming. They promise themselves that. After all this, it’s coming — and soon. By October, they say.

This time, they know it for sure.

Stry.us reporter Jordan Hickey contributed reporting to this story.