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Photo by James Moss
The Edwardsville Imo’s, 1100 S. State Route 157. Frazier bought the location in October 2014.
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Photo by James Moss
Michael Frazier (left) stands with employees at the Edwardsville Imo’s Pizza. “If you take care of your employees and have happy employees, people recognize that,” Frazier says. “I think it makes for a better dining experience.”
For Edwardsville and Bethalto residents, getting “the square beyond compare” is thanks to the dedication of Michael Frazier.
Frazier, a graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, has a long connection with the regional pizza chain and currently owns the Edwardsville and Bethalto locations.
“I worked at the Alton store in high school,” he said. “It was my first real job. When I went to college, I asked if the Edwardsville store would take me and Carl (the owner) did.”
Frazier did not consider owning an Imo’s until he attended culinary school after college when his grandfather, Charles Pelan, mentioned the possibility.
“During and after culinary school, he always joked about buying a restaurant,” Frazier said. “When that opportunity finally presented itself, he was really excited. It just kind of fell in our lap.”
The store that fell into their lap first was Bethalto. Frazier and Pelan, now business partners, purchased the pizza parlor from a family friend who wanted to sell the store and move to California.
After seeing the profit potential from that location, Pelan encouraged Frazier to attempt to purchase another store. After six months of negotiations, Frazier bought the Edwardsville store in October 2014 from Carl Imo, who runs all stores not operated by franchisers.
Ed and Margie Imo founded the pizza company in 1964, opening their first store at Thurman and Shaw avenues in St. Louis. By 1985, the Imos opened their business to franchisers, and today the chain has more than 90 stores.
The Edwardsville location, in operation for 25 years, is among the first Imo’s in Illinois. It was built by Carl Imo’s older brother and his wife, who sold it to Carl a few years later.
“Imo’s as a company is fantastic,” Frazier, who has worked for several restaurant businesses, said. “Imo’s has been some of the greatest people I’ve worked with. They care about their brand a lot, they care about their reputation a lot, which is super helpful.”
Since taking over the two stores, Frazier has expanded the business. He said the Bethalto location has seen its profits increase by approximately one-third, with a smaller increase for the Edwardsville store. The Bethalto Imo’s fills 100 to 150 tickets a day, while the Edwardsville store sees 200 tickets a day.
One way Frazier increases profits is requiring all employees to weigh the toppings before making the pizzas. He said an overuse of toppings can cause the thin-crust pizza to stick to the box and become unappetizing, but it also saves the restaurant money.
“Our food cost that first month was about 50 percent,” he said. “The next month, it dropped down to 33 percent after I put the scales on the table, which is right where it should be.”
Frazier said he also aims to create a good workplace for his employees (approximately 80 between the two locations).
“It’s really important as the manager and as the owner to take care of your employees,” he said. “My philosophy that I’ve ran with is that it’s my job and my manager’s job to take care of my employees and make sure they’re as happy as possible and all their needs are taken care of.”
He also stresses the importance of customer service.
“They’re my paycheck,” Frazier said of his clientele. “I tell my employees (the customers) are the ones who give you a paycheck, so you’ve got to go and do everything you can to make them happy because if they’re not happy, they’re not going to come back.”
In addition to happy employees and satisfied customers, Frazier said he wants customers to come back for the quality of his ingredients.
“All my meat is fresh,” he said. “All my vegetables are fresh cut every day. We throw away the vegetables we didn’t use the day before. If you go to (some other pizza chains), half of the ingredients are going to be frozen or freeze-dried.”
Imo’s also serves salads, pastas, sandwiches, appetizers and desserts. A popular item is the Imo’s Extra Special sandwich with Italian dressing.
The Bethalto Imo’s, 525 N. Bellwood Drive, is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The Edwardsville Imo’s, 1100 S State Route 157, is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.