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Westlake Pizza Schmizza opens today

by: Jaime Valdez, Lake Oswego restaurateurs, Todd Braden, left, and Ian Olsen, right, will open their second Pizza Schmizza restaurant in Westlake Village this week.

When two local men decided to go into the volatile restaurant business, neither of them had even so much as bused a table. They knew what they liked, and they knew what was good, and their instincts, so far, have proven dead on.

Todd Braden, 39, and Ian Olsen, 37, both of Lake Oswego, are opening their second of three Pizza Schmizza restaurants this week in the Westlake Village at the site of the old Talarico's Market.

'We are really excited about this new restaurant,' said Braden. 'It has a totally different feel from our West Linn store. With over 2,500 square feet, it is more of a casual dining experience. There's a large party room that seats 30 with a big projection screen that will be great for sports teams and business lunches.'

Olsen launched the pizza dream more than five years ago. A graduate of Clackamas High School, University of Oregon and Ohio State graduate school, he started his career working for a textile import business.

'Two or three times a week I would have lunch at the Pizza Schmizza on Broadway because our warehouse was next door,' said Olsen. 'It was a great concept, great food and I knew it would work well in Lake Oswego and West Linn.'

Timing is everything - when Olsen contacted Pizza Schmizza headquarters in Hillsboro, the company was looking to start franchising, and its target market was Southwest Portland. Olsen was granted the first ever built-from-the-ground-up Pizza Schmizza franchise in the West Linn Shopping Center on Salamo Road. Two and half months later, he opened his second store in Clackamas.

He was set to open his third store in Lake Oswego when his young twins were diagnosed with a rare terminal illness. Overwhelmed by this tragedy, Olsen decided to pare down and just own and operate the West Linn restaurant. He sold the Clackamas store.

Fast-forward five years, and enter Todd Braden, Olsen's friend and brother-in-law. Braden, a l987 Lakeridge High School graduate, was vice president of marketing for Rodda Paint, a company started by his grandfather. In 2001, both Braden and his father retired on the same day, and Braden was looking for an opportunity to be his own boss.

Olsen and Braden teamed up to expand Pizza Schmizza into Lake Oswego.

'We are living and breathing it right now,' said Braden. 'Except for the five and half hours a night we sleep, we are working.'

In a difficult business in difficult economic times, one might question the twosome's aggressive business plan.

'It is the new technology that makes this possible,' said Olsen. 'With our software, we can take our restaurant plan from beginning to end - control losses, figure food and labor costs, run daily financial reports. The restaurant business is measured in pennies, seconds and ounces. When you can account for these things it takes a lot of the guesswork out of it.'

Olsen was instrumental in inventing the software he uses for his business. When just starting the West Linn Pizza Schmizza, Olsen was asked by Peter Ozolin, now CEO of Remote Technologies in Lake Oswego, to help do due diligence on restaurant management end-to-end software.

His input was invaluable, and now Olsen splits his time as pizza restaurateur with a job as vice president of sales and development at Remote Technologies.

'Having the technology to instantly see everything that happens in the restaurant - what's been sold, what needs to be ordered, who worked what shifts - is an amazing help to the manager. If this software had been available five years ago, I would not have had to sell my Clackamas store.'

Following the grand opening of the Westlake restaurant, Olsen and Braden plan to open their third store this August in the site of the old Upper Crust Bakery next to Noah's Bagels in the Oswego Village Shopping Center.

All three restaurants will be decorated with the edgy New York-style of the newly remodeled West Linn restaurant with cement floors, corrugated metal walls and license plate art.

When asked what makes them different from other pizzerias, Olsen and Braden agreed, 'We keep things fresh and local with homemade dough and locally grown produce.

'And people like our unique menu with items like No Kiss Tonight pizza, Frikin' Chicken pasta and the Cajunator with alligator meat. Plus, unlike many pizzerias in town, we sell pizza by the slice.'

The West Linn Pizza Schmizza has become part of the fabric of the community by sponsoring sports teams, hosting fundraisers and hiring from the local high school. The Braden and Olsen duo are focused on building similar relationships in Lake Oswego.

'Our restaurants don't deliver pizza because Todd and I would rather have a chance to talk with our customers than have a delivery team race off to people we'll never see,' said Olsen.

The doors of the new Westlake Pizza Schmizza will open today, and the grand opening celebration is scheduled for Friday, June 27.

Pizza Schmizza, Lake Oswego, is located at 14558 Westlake Drive, Westlake Center. Hours are Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 8 p.m. Phone 503-968-7777.

Pizza Schmizza, West Linn, is located at 21700 Salamo Road. Hours are Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday noon to 8 p.m. Phone 503-657-5799.