August 28, 2013

A Word With the Boss: Co-owners' yin and yang make a good pizza

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

Mike Keon, a former commercial fisherman originally from Lowell, Mass., and Anthony Allen, who grew up in Nantucket, Mass., started Otto Pizza on Congress Street in Portland in 2009. Their pizza -- including their signature mashed potato, bacon and scallion -- has since won national recognition, including a rating as Maine's best in Food Network Magazine's "50 States, 50 Pizzas" list.

click image to enlarge

Mike Keon started Otto Pizza with Anthony Allen in downtown Portland in 2009. By October they will have eight locations.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Otto Pizza, which employs 215 people, now has five locations and will have eight by this fall. Keon and Allen declined to disclose their sales, annual revenue, income or their compensation.

Q: How did you meet?

A: Allen: I was leasing a nightclub in Haverhill, Mass., and Mike had opened his own restaurant there and we ran into each other. We started talking about pizza and opening up a place and we looked at a couple of places in Boston, but just couldn't make things fit. Mike wanted to come to Portland and he found a place and said it was perfect, and indeed it was. We combined forces and we knew where we wanted to end up.

Q: After operating on your own, were there any issues about going into a partnership?

A: Keon: There really wasn't, with us. We just got along well and wanted to see what we could do as a team. We heard all the warnings about partnerships being better for dancing than business. We listened to that -- and did the opposite. We each still bring to it the thing that the other does not. It's the yin and yang thing. Anthony's more tech-savvy and handles the administration stuff and I get involved in the more creative things, like the food and the shops. We talk about all the ideas and I tend to run with some of that stuff, and Anthony just has a lot of hustle and is good at arranging meetings and talking to banks and dealing with leases.

It's been working that way from day one.

A: Allen: I think we both respect each other and each other's opinions, and if something doesn't feel right or sound right or taste right, we come to a consensus on it. Our lifestyle is a lot different than it was three or four years ago and we still try to get in front of our general managers (of each location) weekly. We still care about how the place settings look and how the product is presented and how it's served and the quality of our staff. We put a lot of energy into it. We share an aesthetic and are just a lot more in alignment on most things. We don't run into things we can't solve very often.

Q: Where did the name come from? Why Otto?

A: Keon: We had a list of names -- a couple of pages -- that we had come up with when he had looked at spaces in Boston and had chosen names for those before we settled on Portland. We narrowed it down, and Enzo was a name we were going to go with, and that's what we called the wine bar (next to Otto Pizza on Congress Street). We started working with a designer and Otto was in the final round of names and he put it in the logo. It looked great, and we fell in love with it.

A: Allen: It means eight in Italian, and there's eight slices to a pizza.

(Continued on page 2)

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