Air Force Vet Finds Startup Success Serving Italian Cuisine

Lisa & Richard Pajac
Entrepreneurs Lisa and Richard Pajac found startup success with Italia Ristorante in Hayward, WI.
Entrepreneurs Lisa and Richard Pajac found startup success with Italia Ristorante in Hayward, WI.

For three decades, entrepreneurs Lisa and Richard Pajac have had a self-proclaimed love affair with everything about the country of Italy, including its delicious cuisine and tasty wine. To further their connection to these ever-so-strong passions, they decided that starting a business as Italian restaurant owners would perfectly satisfy their appetites – and spread their culinary joys with others in an area that has never experienced them.

The Pajacs, who are clients of 1-800Accountant, proudly oversee Italia Ristorante, LLC, a small business in Hayward, Wisconsin. It was formally registered in August 2014.

Italia Ristorante is the poster-child of a family-owned and operated small business. The Pajacs’ son, Brandon Pajac, is the head cook who makes all the magic happen in the kitchen. Their son-in-law, Michael Thompson, manages the bar and beverages. Jovanna Thompson, their daughter, is in charge of marketing and graphic design. They currently have one server/prep/dishwasher, Melissa Izbinski.

Lisa Pajac explains what the true inspiration was for opening the doors to such a restaurant.

“We have had a love affair with Italy since 1984,” she says. “My husband is retired Air Force. For 20 years, we traveled and lived throughout Europe, including three years in northern Italy. When he retired, I was a club manager for the Air Force, so we went back and ended up in southern Italy.

“We’ve done everything to learn the language, food, and wine. We always said that someday we wanted to own an Italian restaurant.”

Thanks to the power of the Internet, she found the perfect spot for it.

“I went online and typed in bar and restaurants in northern Wisconsin. I found three facilities for sale, and my father helped me narrow it down to the best one. So here we are today.”

According to Pajac, the restaurant’s menu fuses Italian food with Wisconsin cuisine.

“When it comes to food, Wisconsinites have very particular tastes,” she explains. “But people are becoming more familiar with untraditional Italian offerings, unlike the regular pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, or chicken parmesan. With social media sites like Pinterest and the Food Network, there is so much more creativity out there that people are fixing things you’ve never seen before. So we serve dishes like pasta carbonara, spaghetti alle vongole, penne arrabbiata, and panna cotta.”

The eatery also offers a full bar specializing in Italian red, white, and sparkling wines like Pinot Grigio and Chianti.

The restaurant seats about 100 diners. It is decorated with a unique Italian theme, including framed, scenic pictures on the wall and olive oil cans. Instead of being numbered like in other restaurants, the tables are named after cities in Italy. The centerpiece on each table is a water pitcher with the name of an Italian town, accompanied by a guidebook about it.

Pajac talks about what she thinks will ultimately make Italia Ristorante a restaurant of choice for both locals and visitors to northern Wisconsin.

“Our love of food comes through in what we serve,” she says. “Everything is homemade, and it’s all comfort food. There is no Italian restaurant within 2 hours of us. It’s also a very big tourist area between May and October with people coming from the Twin Cities, Chicago, and Madison. We are also right on two snowmobile and ATV trails. Plus, we keep our pricing in line with what people can afford.”

When it comes to small business marketing strategies, every business owner uses different platforms to spread the word about their companies. The Pajacs maintain a Facebook page, which has been quite successful already. They use the “boost post” feature, which Lisa says is fairly inexpensive and effective. They’re also developing a website.

Dealing with Unexpected Challenges to Starting a Business

According to Pajac, she and her family have faced a number of unanticipated roadblocks in getting their company up and running. Due to a brutal winter this past year, the building’s water pump, furnace, and wooden deck all had to be replaced. This took a much bigger bite out of their budget in terms of startup costs than what they had planned for.

“You should always expect the unexpected when starting a business,” she says.

Advice for Entrepreneurs Looking to Start a Business

She offers some tips for entrepreneurs interested in taking the leap of faith into their own small business ventures.

“It’s so much easier if you actually live in the area where your business is going to be located,” she says. “Also, have a thorough inspection done of any building you’re going to buy. Do plenty of research. I was able to do most of our research online when we were living in Italy. It’s amazing how much you can find out online.”

As clients of 1-800Accountant, the Pajacs expect to have a great working relationship with the national accounting firm in terms of getting the assistance they need regarding their IRS business tax requirements.

Photo credit: The photograph of Lisa and Richard Pajac was provided by Italia Ristorante, LLC and is used with permission.

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