Business is brisk for the collection of five restaurants conceived and built over the course of two years by local restaurateur Erik Borger. The current count includes two Il Lazzarone pizza restaurants, two Komatsu Ramen shops and one Ostrea seafood bar, both in Kansas City and Borger's hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri.
But as of May 1, Borger is no longer calling the shots at his restaurants. He made the personal decision to sell his empire to his high-school friend and number one employee, Josh Young.
“Josh had always been the driving force behind the operations of all of my restaurants, so when I decided to step away from the business, he was the perfect person to sell to,” Borger says. “I knew he would do a great job moving forward with what I started.”
Borger says the reason he decided to step away from the restaurant business had more to do with the importance of his role as husband and father to his two children than it did with his success as a restaurateur. “For me, it was simple. The writing was on the wall – if I kept going like I was, I would have certainly achieved much, but lost my family in the process,” he says. “No relationship or family can sustain that much growth, and in the end, I gave it all up for them.”
Young grew up working in the world of corporate restaurants, with experience in both the front and back of house as a kitchen manager and general manager. He says Borger came to him in February to discuss his interest in selling the restaurants. The more they talked, the more it became clear that Young was the ideal person for the job. After all, he has been there from the beginning of this restaurant ride with Borger.
“Little has changed about the day-to-day operations of each restaurant. If anything, it just gave me the title to go with the type of work I was already doing,” he says. “As the new owner, I still do everything from changing lightbulbs in the bathroom to doing payroll and training new employees.”
With Young now firmly in the driver's seat, though, there have been a few small changes to keep the ship running smoothly. Diners might have noticed a slight shift in the tone and frequency of the social media presence for all three concepts as Josh’s wife took over the accounts. To drive lunch business, Young has started offering new and enticing daily specials, like $10 pizzas at Il Lazzarone and a special ramen bowl of the day at Komatsu. Even restaurant hours have settled into ones that make more sense for the employees and the operations of each restaurant.
A brand-new menu is also getting ready to launch at Il Lazzarone on Oct. 1, with more locally sourced, seasonal ingredients for salads, pizzas and cocktails on the menu. These include a new Caesar salad with housemade dressing, the addition of local eggplant and artichoke to the vegetarian pizza, a new spicy Sicilian pizza and a brunch pizza topped with an egg. Young says to look for several new desserts and dessert pizzas as well.
Young says that he has just been fine tuning the different concepts, working to create a stable and happy team in every single restaurant. He knows that happy and satisfied employees mean happy and satisfied guests. “We have some really wonderful teams in all of our restaurants, and we have some original employees coming back to work for us,” he says. “I am so proud of the job they are doing, and it was important to me that this transition be seamless for them.”
He gives Borger all the credit for his vision and the marvelous work he did opening some fun and delicious restaurants. When talking about the future of his restaurants, he is upbeat and infectious. Although he has no plans to expand right now, he says that Borger remains a close friend, and the two talk almost every day. “I'm grateful for this opportunity for myself and my family, and when I am ready to grow or need investment capital for another restaurant, he would be the first person I would call,” he says.
As for Borger, he has literally put himself out to pasture, as he and his family have settled on a small family farm in St. Joseph, Missouri. The Borger Family Farm is nothing fancy, which is fine by him and the heritage pigs and cattle he is raising. “We are just trying to produce some of the best food in the world for our family first, and eventually for others who may be interested in what we are doing out here,” he says. “This is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life, and hopefully something my children and their children can take over some day.”
It's a happy ending for all parties involved, but especially for the restaurants themselves.
Il Lazzarone, 412 Delaware St., River Market, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.541.3695, illazzarone.org
Il Lazzarone, 1628 Frederick Ave., St. Joseph, Missouri, 816.273.0582, illazzarone.org