Turnaround Dad
Entrepreneur|Startups Fall - Winter 2021
After covering his son’s shift at a failing Pie Five Pizza, Steve Roberts decided to buy the place and fix it up—even though he had no business experience. It worked.
By Chloe Arrojado

Steve Roberts didn’t usually cover his son’s shift at the local Pie Five Pizza, but the situation was dire. His son, Joel, had a medical emergency, and the shop was so understaffed that nobody else was available.

But when Roberts arrived at the pizza shop in Ankeny, Iowa, he was appalled by what he saw. The place was dirty and in disarray. It lacked enough food products, and the machinery was broken. Who would want to work there, let alone eat there?

“Oh, man, what a mess,” Roberts said to his son. “Give me your boss’s phone number right now.”

When Roberts called the franchise owner to complain, the owner surprised him with an offer: Would Roberts want to buy the franchise?

Roberts had no business experience; he’d spent two decades as a railroad foreman. But he thought he could turn the place around. So in 2018, he signed the ownership papers and became a very unexpected Pie Five Pizza owner.

One year later, he earned the Rookie of the Year and Turnaround Store of the Year awards at Pie Five Pizza’s corporate summit. His success has only grown from there.

How did he do it? He used his lack of business experience as an asset—because it meant he was willing to try anything to succeed.

BEFORE ROBERTS bought the Pie Five location, he wanted to identify all the store’s problems. The research wasn’t difficult to do.

“I was talking to employees like, ‘What do you guys see? What is the good and the bad about this place?’ ” Roberts says. “Of course, they’re telling me ’cause they know I’m Joel’s dad, and they had no idea I was buying it.”

Roberts divided the problems he learned about into two categories: There were internal problems and external problems.

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