Chris Heileman

Chris Heileman is a hospitality leader, teacher, coach, facilitator, mentor, advisor, and investor. He is currently the CEO of Uccello’s Hospitality Group, a multi-concept restaurant company founded on Italian hospitality and family values. Uccello’s Hospitality Group owns and operates both Uccello’s Ristorante, a sports-themed casual dining Italian restaurant, and Herb & Fire Pizzeria, a fast-casual pizzeria. 

Chris’ passion in life is using his storied experience to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs realize their potential, formulate a career path, and achieve their dreams.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Chris Heileman talks about his journey from General Manager to CEO at Uccello’s Hospitality Group
  • Chris recalls what life in the restaurant industry was like before COVID-19 
  • How Chris first gained experience in the restaurant industry: washing dishes
  • Should you build a restaurant from the ground up or convert a pre-existing restaurant?
  • Chris discusses how Uccello’s Hospitality Group quickly adapted to COVID-19’s restrictions by offering takeout and delivery 

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Prologue  0:03  

This is the Always Direct Podcast. And we talk with movers and shakers in this world to learn about the ups and downs they went through to get where they are now. Let’s get started with the show.

John Rayyan  0:16  

Hello, everybody. My name is John Rayyan. I’m the host of the Always Direct Podcast and today I have a special guest. His name is Chris Heileman. And he is the owner of CEO of Uccello’s Hospitality Group. How are you, Chris?

Chris Heileman  0:30  

I’m doing well. John, how are you today?

John Rayyan  0:32  

I’m wonderful. I’m wonderful. So, Chris, I’ve been reviewing what I can find online about you. And it seems like you got a lot of businesses going on a lot of things happening. Could you tell me about it? 

Chris Heileman  0:44  

Yeah, so currently, right now, I’m the CEO of Uccello’s Hospitality Group. So we have six, Uccello’s Ristorantes here in the greater Grand Rapids area. And we also have to Herb & Fire Pizzerias. So we have eight restaurants total. And, you know, we’re doing pretty good right now.

John Rayyan  1:06  

Yeah, definitely. Sounds like it is a family business. Is this. Are you? Are you working with? who’s involved with your business?

Chris Heileman  1:15  

Yeah, so it’s a family owned business. The Uccello’s family owns the restaurants. And I am the CEO of Uccello’s Hospitality Group, which is the the entity that oversees the operations of all eight of our restaurants.

John Rayyan  1:34  

And how did I so were you there? How long have you been working with the company? Were you part of it? Were you part of the ground up situation? Or were you did you come in after they’re already established? Tell me about how it began.

Chris Heileman  1:46  

Yeah, so I’ve been with the company 15 years. So I just had my 15 year anniversary at the beginning of October. So it was it was pretty exciting. So I came on board. We had one restaurant, back when I started. And we that was back in 2005. So we opened up two restaurants in 2005 when I joined the company, and I was the opening General Manager of Uccello’s and Caledonia. So we ramped up to three locations pretty quick there. And I was the general manager for about two years. Uccello’s Caledonia, which is just a kind of a suburb of Grand Rapids. Here.

John Rayyan  2:32  

Michigan band.

Chris Heileman  2:34  

Yeah, right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So after the after about two years, you know, the the family had really a real desire to grow the concept and grow the company. And they had seen some things in me that they felt like I could be somebody who could step into a role that helped help them grow the company even further. And so we felt like we needed somebody who could oversee the three restaurants that we had at that time. And so I got promoted to the Director of Operations role, so and in that role, I was in that role for about eight years. And we grew. We opened up a couple more Uccello’s Ristorantes here in Grand Rapids. And those all we’re doing quite well. The Uccello’s brand is is pretty well known, pretty well respected brand here in West Michigan. And so we did that for a while. And, you know, we were pretty successful. And right around 2015 or so we decided, we wanted to expand the company even further. So I kind of seen, I was kind of paying attention to the restaurant landscape and seeing how, how things were kind of shifting towards the fast casual side. And so I came up with the idea to open a fast casual concept. And so the the family and I have the the founder, founder Uccello’s, myself and his son, Sergio and his son in law, Mario, but the four of us work together on developing this new concept called Herb & Fire Pizzerias. So we open a fast casual pizzeria.

John Rayyan  4:27  

I’m on the website right now. It looks pretty good. Looks really good.

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