Class of 2008
Brandon Testa blends tradition and innovation in his work with House of Pizza and Pacific Wok, and by the time he joined the 5 Under 40 Class of 2008 he also had helped with Sartell youth hockey, Boys & Girls Clubs and the Apple Duathlon.
What are you doing now?
Overseeing operations at my four local restaurants, with locations in St. Cloud and Sartell.
How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?
It was a great honor to receive the award. It gave me an opportunity to recognize all of the wonderful staff I'm surrounded with at the restaurants. We value our people that make us a great place to eat and work.
Other big changes since you received the award?
We weathered the storm of the ongoing economic challenges while continuing to grow the company by adding addition space, staff and sales.
What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?
Continual business development in all our surrounding areas.
Originally ran: January 1, 2009
Brandon Testa isn't your average restaurant owner. He doesn't have an office. He won't be found wandering aimlessly or watching over employees' shoulders at the restaurants he owns, House of Pizza and Pacific Wok.
Instead, he can be found working alongside them — busing dishes, working the register and cooking in the kitchen.
He's most comfortable in the kitchen, he said. It's where he can be creative.
His creativity is part of what makes him a star in the St. Cloud area. He pioneered the Japanese fast-food concept at Pacific Wok in Sartell, opening the store in 2004 — not an easy sell in an area that loves its pizza and sub sandwiches. But if he could get people in the door, he said, he could keep them coming back.
And that he did. It took a year and a half, and he lost some money, but eventually it turned around. It now has a strong following, and people who are excited that none of its meals cost more than $7. In 2007 he opened a second location in Kenosha, Wis.
"So far, so good," he said.
Because of the clean, crisp design, everyone thinks Pacific Wok is a chain restaurant. It isn't. But he's not necessarily hurt by that judgment; it's a big compliment, he said.
Testa is open to turning it into a franchise, but right now he has no plans to expand in that way.
For now he's focusing on what he's got. He's got to in this economy. His industry is down about 30 percent, a fact that certainly concerns him, but he's not letting it get in the way of what he does.
His mind is on his restaurants and his staff. He says his style is to lead by example. That's partly what makes this business successful, he said. Testa has a reliable staff that is motivated by managers who share responsibilities. Management take out trash, cook in the kitchen and work the registers, just like everybody else.
Another important aspect of leadership is empowering employees to make decisions, even if that means they make mistakes, he says. "Let them screw up," he said, and let them learn from it.
And it's effective. He even gets feedback from former employees. One girl worked for him during college, putting in 15 hours a week as a server. She was allowed to make major decisions such as proofing menus. After she was done working there, she wrote him a letter telling him how much that experience and responsibility meant to her.
He also involves his business in the community. On one day before Christmas, Pacific Wok customers who bring a food shelf donation can get a free lunch. Each year they collect about 500-600 pounds of food.
And at the House of Pizza, he often does a half-price holiday pizza sale. For every $1 sold he donates $1 to charity.
Testa is as grateful as he is giving. "I've gotten lucky," he said, adding that good mentors and solid staff have contributed to his businesses' success.
He describes himself as high-strung and high-energy, two reasons the restaurant business is a perfect fit for him. It's stressful. It's demanding. It's fast-paced. He's constantly on call — he's tried to have a set schedule, but it doesn't work, he said. Each day changes by the minute.
And at the end of the day, he makes the decisions, a fact that can be exciting and frightening at the same time.
"It's hard to get bored," he said.
Job: Owner, House of Pizza and Pacific Wok restaurants.
Hometown: St. Cloud.
Education: Degree in hospitality services with a minor in business from Colorado State University.
Community involvement: Sartell and St. Cloud chambers of commerce, Sartell youth hockey sponsor and donates time and money to Boys & Girls Clubs in St. Cloud and Sartell, race director of the Apple Duathlon.
What he does for fun: Plays soccer.
Fact: Despite the fact that he's a restaurant owner, he doesn't like all types of foods. Onions are particularly problematic for him because of their texture.
What's in his pockets: Keys, an iPhone and a zip drive.