While still a student at Grand Valley, Davide Uccello, '13, started a business with his older brother, Dan. Dan was 24 and Davide was just 19.
The siblings opened what is now called Flo's Pizzeria Ristorante & Sports Bar in Belmont. The restaurant sat 120 people and after only a year it was clear they needed to expand. With waits an hour long or more every night of the week, they simply couldn't meet the demand and expanded to 250 seats.
"I was working 60-65 hours a week that first year, plus going to school full-time," said Davide. "It was hard work, but it got done."
That hard work has definitely paid off. The brothers now co-own and operate Flo's Collection, which includes their three restaurants and one catering company. They bring in $7 million in sales annually and provide jobs to 200+ employees in West Michigan, including many Grand Valley students. While their success is already impressive, they're nowhere near finished.
"We're on track to open another restaurant this year," said Davide. "And our plan is to open a new restaurant every year for the immediate future."
Davide is responsible for their financial planning, and has utilized the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC) from the start. The SBDC's regional office is housed in the L. William Seidman Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. Staff members help local businesses to start, grow and expand. He said David Sayers, senior business consultant for SBDC, has consistently pulled research and data needed to create successful business plans.
"David has helped us tremendously over the years. Not only by helping me get our business plans together, but also by connecting me with financial partners," said Davide.
“Seeing all that Grand Valley does for the community, it reaffirms what my family taught me about the importance of giving back.”DAVIDE UCCELLO
In addition to their local success, the brothers have had international success. In May 2017, they traveled to Parma, Italy, representing one of their restaurants, Flo's Pizzeria, in the International Pizza Challenge. Referred to as "the World Cup of pizza competitions," the challenge had 900 different pizzerias competing from 50 different countries.
"There's an award for the best pizza from each country and the best pizza in the world," Davide explained. "We competed on behalf of the U.S. Pizza Team and our company, and we ended up taking home 'Best Pizza in America' our first time there. It was really cool."
Davide has other global plans in motion. While most of his career has involved business in West Michigan, his degree from Grand Valley is in international business and he would like to establish a food import/export company.
"I plan to be with our company forever, but I'm working on getting my international business career started, too. My brother will be in charge of local operations, while I'll be in charge of real estate and finances, allowing me to work from anywhere in the world. It's all very exciting," said Davide.
Yet even with his global mindset, Davide has a local heart. It's important to him and his brother that they are active members of the communities they work in, giving back to their neighbors with both financial and in-kind gifts. Davide also makes sure to give back to his alma mater by regularly speaking to business classes, mentoring students, and more.
"In every location that we open for business, we want to be the No. 1 community partner," said Davide. "This mentality developed both from how I was raised and from attending Grand Valley. Seeing all that Grand Valley does for the community, it reaffirms what my family taught me about the importance of giving back."