Pies & Pints shares its successful growth model.
Kim Shingledecker had one goal: “I wanted to serve good food and really good beer in a cool environment and be able to play cool music,” she says. “It was really simple.” That’s the idea she took to her eventual business partner more than a decade ago, when they decided to open the first Pies & Pints restaurant in Fayetteville. They developed a business plan around the idea, built their business around it, and now return to it for a gut check any time they make a big decision. “As soon as I go into a store and say, ‘That it isn’t what we thought of when we opened Pies and Pints,’ that’s how I’ll know we grew too fast,” Shingledecker says. “I want to be proud of what we’ve done.”
Pies & Pints may be growing slowly, but it’s growing. The craft beers and hand-stretched pizzas topped with everything from grapes and gorgonzola to black beans and salsa are sold in five hip, comfortable locations—three in West Virginia and two in Ohio—and counting. Shingledecker is at the helm of this empire—if sitting just off center. She’s joined there by Rob Lindeman and his partners at Blue Fire Capital, who bought the concept from Shingledecker and the restaurant’s other founder, Dave Bailey, in 2011.
Shingledecker and Bailey had already expanded beyond their first restaurant by then—they’d changed locations in Fayetteville, tripling the size of the flagship restaurant, and opened a new store in Charleston. But Lindeman, with his capital, expertise, and connections in the business and restaurant worlds, offered a chance at growth that they couldn’t accomplish on their own. “He has an MBA, I don’t. He ran a corporation that ran over 100 locations, I haven’t done that,” Shingledecker says. “He knows what he’s doing.” She wasn’t naive or scared off by his business-speak—she has a degree in business and ran another restaurant before Pies & Pints—so she was happy to join Lindeman at the negotiating table.
Lindeman came to that table after spending some time at another one—in the Pies & Pints restaurant in Charleston. He already saw potential for growth in the restaurant from a business perspective, but was wary of investing in a restaurant that he didn’t believe in as a consumer, too. So he took his family and friends to Pies & Pints. “No one knew what we were doing there,” Lindeman says. “And everyone was saying, ‘How did you find this place?” Even my wife was saying that she wished we had one at home in Columbus.” That was enough to convince Lindeman he should pursue the deal. “I just had to be able to check that box off first,” he says. Eventually he brought Pies & Pints to his wife in the Columbus area, too.
Shingledecker, Bailey, and Lindeman sat through a series of meetings and eventually signed an agreement to open a new company together: Pies & Pints Franchising LLC. Shingledecker and Bailey own minority shares in that company and stay involved in its operations—which include the company-owned stores in Charleston and Ohio, as well as a franchise in Morgantown. The founding restaurant in Fayetteville wasn’t part of that deal—Shingledecker still owns and operates it as a separate entity. Now that company is continuing to grow—slowly. All of the business’s owners are committed to a deliberate pattern of growth; they don’t want to throw up 50 storefronts in five years just to see what sticks. “We always want to be unique and special and not this chain where there’s one on every corner,” Rob says. “It’s a mom and pop operation that has the benefits of a chain but does none of the things that the chain guys do.”
That means approaching each location differently. They want the restaurants to feel similar, but not the same. “We want each restaurant to have a personality,” Shingledecker says. “When you walk in you recognize that it’s Pies & Pints—the music, the color scheme, the modern industrial feel—but we’re also not going to make it cookie cutter.” The beer menu changes depending on the location, mainly so they can take advantage of regional breweries and distribution hubs, but every location has an identical menu and the recipes are very specific and strict. “So we know the food tastes the same wherever you are,” Lindeman says.
In another nod toward continuity, they try to promote from within and keep the turnover rate among staff low, the result of a lesson Shingledecker and Bailey learned early on about trying to start fresh with each new venture. When they opened the Charleston restaurant their staff in Fayetteville wasn’t quite large enough to absorb the new restaurant, so they brought in a whole new management team from the outside. “And none of them made it,” Shingledecker says. “None of them works for us now.” Those people hadn’t grown up with Pies & Pints the way the team in Fayetteville had, and they didn’t understand the brand in the same way. “The culture is huge and we really need people to buy into what we’re doing,” Shingledecker says. “We learned the hard way that hiring people from outside—they just don’t seem to get it.” The idea, she says, is to treat each location as its own, unique restaurant, but not to ignore the company’s proven successes—or failures.
Written by Shay Maunz
photographed by elizabeth roth