with wife Simone
Gordon Fletcher was born in Columbus, Ohio and moved to Alaska at the age of four when his dad, who was a journeyman lineman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), found work there. They bounced around from Anchorage to Kodiak to Chugiak and eventually settled in Big Lake, Alaska when he was six.
Gordon got the inspiration to start Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza from his work as a youth minister.
“Ten years of flinging pizzas for the teens at our youth ministry showed me I had pretty good pizza,” he told Timely Visit. “We made crazy combinations for our teens such as the Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizza.”
“The kids had never had anything as unique as our pizza and told us that we should open a pizza joint over and over again. That planted the seed.”
However, Gordon didn’t have the capital to open a restaurant. He had a 42-page business plan no lender would look at and was told he wouldn’t get a loan unless he had $100,000 in cash to back it.
“If I had $100,000 cash, I wouldn't need a loan,” Gordon thought.
He began working construction to raise the capital. Six months later, a job opened up with the State of Alaska Department of Corrections and Gordon took it.
“I took a job as a Correctional Officer for the sole purpose of cashing in my retirement after five years and opening my restaurant,” he revealed.
It took six years to the day for Gordon to get what he thought he needed. He was hired by the DOC on February 6, 2006 and resigned on February 5, 2012.
How did Gordon build Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza?
Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza's oven
Gordon registered Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza as an LLC on December 11th, 2011. Soon after the articles of incorporation were completed and filed with the state, he began to purchase equipment and look for space to lease.
In mid December 2011, Gordon purchased a great wood fired stone oven off Craigslist for $3,300. It was a really awesome deal. The oven had been originally purchased for close to $20,000 by Glacier Brewhouse, a restaurant in Anchorage, and never been used so it was as good as new!
In February 2012, Gordon signed his first lease on the building the business occupies right now - it was an old messy garage. It wasn't until April 2012 that he got city approval to begin construction.
Gordon spent his time between April and August 2012 doing sheetrock, texturing, pouring concrete, making his tables and chairs and attempting to save as much money as he possibly could doing as much of his own construction as possible.
With the help of spectacular deals on paint and supplies, he took the property from a rundown old garage to a commercially viable location in the city of Palmer, Alaska.
Gordon would also spend every morning combing through Sam's Club, Lowes and Craigslist for great deals on new and used restaurant equipment, looking to save as much money as possible.
Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza opened its doors on August 25th, 2012.
What gap in the market is Gordon filling?
“I originally wanted to open in Wasilla, it was a bigger market,” Gordon told Timely Visit.
“The problem was that our concept didn't fit the fast food mentality which Wasilla consumers tend to have. Twenty minutes to order, eat and go is simply not our style,” he explained. “We want people to sit and enjoy our place, not eat and run.”
“The demographics in Palmer were eclectic to say the least. Farmers, doctors, bankers, teachers, hippies and hipsters - Palmer has it all. As small as Palmer is, it is very diverse and we liked that.”
“While there are a lot of pizza joints in Palmer, no one was offering gourmet pizza let alone a wood fired pizza,” Gordon pointed out. “We appeal to foodies. It is our goal to keep our pizza ingredients as fresh as possible. We make our own dressings, desserts, dough and so much more.”
“We offer a higher quality pizza but offer it at a pretty competitive price.”
Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza also prides itself in its line of gluten free products.
“This is a generally untapped market. I think many restaurants write this market off entirely but with Celiac disease becoming more prevalent, it’s foolish to ostracize an entire group,” Gordon said.
“Most of our menu can be ordered gluten free. We even make desserts gluten free which our non-gluten free customers enjoy just as much.”
How has Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza performed so far?
Gordon Fletcher gives his daughter Kameela
her first paycheck
In the last quarter of 2012, which was its first quarter open, the business reeled in $147,000 in gross sales and paid off nearly $25,000 in outstanding debts, including sidewalks, fire suppression system and kitchen equipment. In 2013, they grossed $314,000 and considerably topped that in 2014.
The pizzeria has also already clinched several accolades. In 2012 when they had just started out, they got a very great write-up in the Frontiersman, a local Alaska newspaper. In 2013, they were featured in Alaska's Best Kitchens, a local lifestyle magazine that focuses on kitchens.
In 2014, they tied for first place as the best pizza in the Mat-Su Valley in the Frontiersman's “Best of the Valley" poll. They were also awarded the "Business Beautification" award from the city of Palmer for what they have done to improve the condition of the building they are leasing.
However, Gordon disclosed to Timely Visit that he is not yet satisfied. “Success cannot be defined extrinsically. The parameters are set internally,” he explained.
“So while others may be saying I am successful, I have an entirely different outlook. I take time to celebrate the victories and milestones but they are not the destination, so I keep plugging away.”
Gordon aims to be debt-free and draw his first pay check within three years. “This is unheard of in business let alone the restaurant industry so I cannot incur more debt. Expansion of any kind or replacement of any equipment has to be from whatever savings we can garner,” he remarked.
He would also like to eventually own the building he is currently leasing and improve it a state he is fully satisfied with. Later on, he would also like to expand his business to other markets.
However, Gordon pointed out that inflation has been quite a thorn in his side.
“Everything affects the food service industry because there are so many cogs working either for or against the restaurateur,” he explained.
“If there is frost in California or drought in the mid west, we feel it. We feel it in the price of produce, flour, cheese and beef. We feel it when there is a recall and we have to switch to another product.”
“Our food costs change weekly but we cannot reflect these costs week to week like the grocery store or gas station the consumer wouldn't tolerate it,” he added. “Therefore, we have a constant balancing act between cost and quality.”
What is behind the success of Humdinger's Gourmet Pizza so far?
Gordon points to faith, hard work, ingenuity, creativity, loyal fans and fostering a family mentality with his employees as very key to his business’ success.
He also believes in doing a few things really well versus doing a lot of things mediocre. “It took me six months to get our Margherita pizza fine tuned enough to where I thought it was acceptable to put on our menu,” he shared.
“I have another half-dozen pizzas in my head as well as desserts and appetizer ideas. I have thoughts on baking bagels, breads and pies. I want to brew my own root beer and soda,” he added.
“The issue is doing it well enough to call it a Humdinger product. It has to meet my standards before I will put it in front of our fans,” he explained. “Patience is probably the biggest key to success.”
Gordon advises anyone out there who would like to become an entrepreneur to dream big and start small. “Do not despise humble beginnings and always press toward your ultimate goal.”
He is also a strong advocate of expanding only through the cash generated by the business. “Do not borrow,” he sternly warns. “Borrowing makes you a slave to interest.”
And lastly, Gordon, a very devout Christian, also strongly encourages faith in God.