From Finance to Fresh Baked w/ Jeff Barris of Hail Mary Pizza

Jeff Barris, owner of Hail Mary Pizza in LA's Atwater Village, discusses his journey from finance to acquiring the renowned sourdough pizzeria from chef David Wilcox in 2022. Jeff shares insights on maintaining brand reputation, navigating challenges like staff turnover and economic impacts, and his vision for data-driven expansion. The episode offers advice for evaluating pizzeria acquisitions and the costs of starting from scratch. From dough management to community engagement, Jeff provides a behind-the-scenes look at running a successful pizza business.

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In This Episode

  • Jeff Barris purchased Hail Mary Pizza in 2022 from renowned chef David Wilcox. The restaurant, which opened in 2018, is known for its sourdough pizza. Jeff, who has a finance background, shopped around for the right pizzeria to acquire before finding Hail Mary.

  • Since taking over, Jeff has largely kept things the same in terms of the menu, staff, and reputation Hail Mary had built. He’s made a few additions and tweaks, like changing the red sauce recipe, but is careful not to alter too much of what made Hail Mary successful. Maintaining the restaurant’s brand and customer base is a priority.

  • Jeff lives above the restaurant, which makes overseeing the dough production and other aspects of the business more convenient. His long-term vision is to slowly expand Hail Mary to new locations around LA, either through ghost kitchens or brick-and-mortar spaces, using a data-driven approach.

  • Some of the biggest challenges have been navigating staff turnover after the ownership change, and a decline in sales and alcohol purchases due to the economic impacts of the entertainment industry strikes. Jeff is exploring new marketing initiatives to help bring in customers from a wider area.

  • As advice for others looking to buy an existing pizzeria, Jeff recommends carefully evaluating the financials, assets, lease terms, and perhaps most importantly – the brand reputation and potential for growth. He suggests a full restaurant buildout could cost $400-500k depending on the size and finishes.

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