- As Pizza Shuttle owners Mark Gold and Louis Siecinski near retirement, they want to make sure their beloved pizzeria stays in good hands with the employees who made them a success.
- To start out, employees collectively will receive 10% stock in the company after four years of service. The goal is for the company to be 80% employee-owned in 15 to 20 years.
Mark Gold and Louis Siecinski, the owners of Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee, have been best buds since 1976. They shared tuna sandwiches for lunch in middle school, went to the movies and hung out at each other’s homes—Mark once even got a little “out of control with his emotions” and locked Lou in a closet during a sleepover.
As entrepreneurs, their first joint venture was a lawn-mowing business. Today, they’re the co-owners of a single-unit pizza shop that has been an institution in Milwaukee since 1985. And, as they get ready to retire, they want to let their employees become owners in the long-thriving business.
Pizza Shuttle partnered with Teamshares, a financial technology company, to transition the business to its 80 employees, with the goal of ensuring sustainable ownership over the next generation.
Pizza Shuttle employees will keep their jobs through the ownership transition and will be granted stock. Employees collectively will receive 10% stock in the company, which will be earned through four years of ongoing service at the company. The goal is for Pizza Shuttle to be 50% employee-owned in 10 years and 80% employee-owned in 15 to 20 years.
“I dreamed of opening a pizzeria when I was a teenager,” Mark said. “This restaurant has been my life, which makes stepping away from the business a very difficult decision.”
“Many of our employees have been with us for years—even decades,” he added. “When I discovered the employee ownership model, I knew this was how I wanted to transition into retirement—empowering my employees to take ownership and benefit from business growth and success.”
Mark had been managing a Domino’s store when he and Lou decided to open their own shop. At first, they looked into becoming franchisees with a major pizza chain in Detroit. But that city was already saturated with pizza joints. Instead, they opened an independent, delivery-only shop across Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. Gold was just 21, and Siecinski was 20.
They went on to open two more Pizza Shuttle stores in Milwaukee, but sold two of them off within five years and decided to focus exclusively on their East Side location. In 1995, they moved the store to North Farwell Avenue and opened up for dine-in.
Things can get a little quirky at the eatery. To order the large 1-topping special ($20), you have to say, “Gobble! Gobble!” They offer an $8.50 fish fry special on Wednesdays and Fridays, plus cocktail slushies (including Pina Colada and Hurricane versions) and vodka or tequila Lemonade Icees. Pizza Shuttle has even been known to host a Paper-Rock-Scissors contest for kids, with the winners receiving Pizza Shuttle swag and gift certificates.
More than 65 percent of Pizza Shuttle employees come from diverse backgrounds. They range in ages from 16 to 75, with an average tenure of seven years in the company. To ensure that these workers get a stake in the company’s future, Lou and Mark partnered with Teamshares, a venture-capital-backed firm that helps small and medium-sized businesses transition from retiring owners to employee-ownership. Teamshares assists with issuing employee stock and helping employee-owners become financially fluent through software and education.
“Pizza Shuttle is an exciting partnership opportunity for us. We have been impressed with Mark and Louis’ dedication and passion for the business they grew into a community staple,” said Michael Brown, co-founder and CEO of Teamshares. “We are proud that Teamshares is becoming the exit strategy of choice for retiring small business owners because we offer the opportunity of ownership for dedicated employees and ensure the business can thrive for generations to come.”
As part of the transition, Pizza Shuttle will hire a new president, and Gold’s daughter, Jessica Gold, will serve as the general manager, handling many of the restaurant’s day-to-day responsibilities. “It’s extremely rare in the restaurant industry to have built a passionate, loyal team like we have here at Pizza Shuttle,” said Jessica, who has been an employee for 15 years. “We’re always looking to grow our team, and now employee ownership turns a job at Pizza Shuttle into a future career opportunity.”
Like most restaurants, the company is hiring right now, seeking to fill roles from managers to delivery drivers. Employees will receive stock with dividends, wages of up to $20 per hour for delivery drivers, schedule flexibility, 401K options and food and beverage discounts.