The original Ian’s Pizza is located at 319 Frances Street in Madison, Wisconsin. Gurfield, just 25 at the time, opened the restaurant on Halloween day of 2001. Twenty years later, Ian’s Pizza has eight different store locations in four major cities west of the Mississippi.
Gurfield grew up in Alford, Mass., and was a four-year day student at Berkshire. After graduating, he enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, receiving a dual degree in philosophy and economics in December 1999. The most pivotal of his college years may have been the one he spent studying abroad in Italy, where he developed a love for Italian food and language. Gurfield moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in January 2000, and continues to live there with his wife, Susan, and their two children, Emil (8) and Sarah (6).
When reflecting on the journey of Ian’s Pizza, Gurfield attributes much of his success to timing and good fortune, and learning from mistakes. As a young business owner, Gurfield had the energy and flexibility he needed to focus all of his attention on the restaurant business, something that would have been much more challenging at this stage in his life. He also had the awareness and humility to understand that this process would not be mistake-free, an important message we continually share with our Bears under the Mountain as they develop into lifelong learners.
As much as Ian’s Pizza has grown in the past 20 years, the one constant for the business has been a deliberate focus on the happiness and satisfaction of every Ian’s Pizza employee. For Gurfield, fostering a healthy employee culture is paramount to making quality food and building important connections with customers. One thing is for sure, Ian’s Pizza seems to have found just the right recipe for success … and for fantastic pizza.
If you’re ever in Madison, be sure to visit Ian’s for some great food and company. He loves meeting and visiting with fellow Bears. In the meantime, please read the Q&A below to learn more about Gurfield and the story of Ian’s Pizza.
When did you first come up with the idea of opening your own pizza restaurant?
It started with a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. When I came back to college I was looking to keep up with my Italian and struck up a friendship with a family of Italian restaurateurs. One thing led to another, and soon I started working for them with the intent of opening my own pizza shop in a college town. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I love food, so the decision to go into the restaurant business made sense. I visited Madison, Wisconsin in January of 2000 and liked what I saw. I opened on Halloween of 2001 and business took off instantly.
With eight locations in four cities (Madison, Milwaukee, Denver, and Seattle), what has allowed you to be successful, and what are your hopes for the future?
Persistence, generosity of spirit, and luck are some of the factors. Learning from the tons of mistakes I've made along the way also is important. Lastly, I wouldn't have gotten this far without help from others. As for the future, we have a long-term vision for 2031 which took several years to write. You can read all about it here [in Ian's blog, Make Great Dough, which features actionable advice for small business owners].
In what ways is your Berkshire experience present in your life today?
Berkshire helped me to develop solid communication skills. That includes learning how to type, something I do almost every day!
What are your fondest memories of your time under the Mountain?
My entire sixth-form year was great. I remember being part of a small crew of sixth formers who decided to play JV basketball instead of going for varsity. We had a great time. And won a lot of games.
If you could offer any piece of advice to today’s students, what would it be?
Learning patience. Some of my biggest mistakes were the result of rushing into things. Also, if possible, travel.