Shaz Khan of Tono Pizzeria & Cheesesteaks on Navigating Friendship + Business
Interview with the co-owner of Tono Pizzeria and Cheesesteaks to learn about scaling a restaurant business, using Toast restaurant technology, and combining friendship with business.
Takeaways from this episode:
Proactive Development is Advantageous — Shaz Khan started Tono Pizzeria & Cheesesteaks with his best friend, Antonio Gambino. It is often to never mix friends or family with business, but Khan, Gambino, and crew did the necessary work early to help navigate the difficult moments of doing just that.
Brand Traction is a Long Play — In a climate where going viral and instant fame seems to take precedence, Shaz Khan understands that a consistent customer base connects best to an authentic story.
Scale Cannot Be the Only Measure of Success — Shaz Khan and Antonio Gambino have been strategic when it comes to constructing their team. With trust as the foundation, the journey of scaling has become the success story.
Shaz Khan knows the old adage of not mixing friends and family with business or money. But when he started a restaurant company he learned how to mix all four.
Shaz Khan was an electrical engineer by trade before taking on the restaurant industry with his best friend.
"The challenges are many, and I think I was underprepared for many of them," Shaz Khan says of going into business with his friend, Antonio Gambino. "So we got very clear on what questions we need to ask and what style of communication we needed to implement in order to convey everything."
The duo began their restaurant journey by opening Andrea Pizza and Frank from Philly separately. Tono Pizzeria & Cheesesteak combines the two cuisines under one roof, and places the focus on the dining experience in a fast-casual environment.
The Minnesota-based restaurant now has four locations across the state, and Khan has used his engineering background to implement effective growth strategies.
"Part of the scaling conversation is logistics and systems," Shaz Khan tells Restaurant Influencers podcast host Shawn P. Walchef of CaliBBQ Media.
One of those systems was to handpick employees to ensure the business scales productively. Deciding to go with friends that possess a specific skill set that could be used to further the brand.
"We knew these two people were not only really good friends of ours, also having great acumen, but also bringing a piece of the puzzle to the team for us to continue to expand and scale." says Khan of the people he chose to begin forming his team.
As strategic as they may have been, Khan and company still faced challenges when growing and adding restaurants. Again, Khan's knowledge of processes due his formal training has made him pliable enough to understand that those processes are not written in stone and may need to be tweaked as business needs change.
That includes switching to Toast products to help the systems put in place become more efficient. Shaz Khan's ability to provide valuable feedback has helped Tono Pizzeria and Cheesesteaks expansion and allowed him to be on the Toast Customer Advisory Board.
As the Tono brand flourishes, it is important to Khan to remain authentic and understand the story that his brand is telling. According to him, that story is what creates the connection that causes the migration of potential customers to ones who prefer one brand over another.
"We make sure that everything about the brand, from the colors to the logo to the food, to the food, to the experience, to the smell, I mean, everything is representative of what that story is and what experience we want people to live with." Khan says.
Long play. Actionable steps based on data derived from putting systems into place and making necessary adjustments when needed.
That is the framework of sustainability that has propelled Shaz Khan and Tono Pizzeria and Cheesesteaks to the level they are today, and the continued ascension that is on the horizon.
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