Operation Pizza Flame: Our first upholstery field trip

Here are two things I really love: small businesses, and thin crust pizza. I mean, I have other loves,  but those two are waaaaaaaaay up there.

So imagine my delight to learn that one of our Tuesday crew met her now-husband at his  little pizza parlor in Coon Rapids, Minnesota:

“I went in to pick up pizzas for something and there was this cute guy. Then I was ordering pizza all the time, even when I wasn’t really in the mood for it . . . ”

However many years and several children later, Nikki was taking upholstery classes – for herself, but also as a way to maybe help care for the family business. Between projects (and hockey games, and baseball games, and checking homework) Nikki started dragging in the worst of the booth seats, slowly reupholstering one at a time.


Then came a Friday in November with me dog tired,  standing in front of the fridge, thinking about NOT cooking.

“Let’s go to Pizza Flame!” I announced. “I want to see Nikki’s progress, and support
someone else’s business”

13606575_10208843714883206_4616018967806587236_n-2Remember, my shop was only about 3 months old in November. I was constantly on the verge of total freak out, convinced that my family would be eating out of dumpsters by spring. Nikki was a calm and empathetic sounding board. She was very familiar with the ups and downs of self-employment, the lean months, the long hours, the all-consuming beast of a new business.

She was a good person to talk to.

And early on, I’d figured out that one of the best ways to keep my own stress at bay was to throw a little love forward. . . Write a thank you note, make a phone call just to say hello, pay someone a public compliment on social media, show up with treats . . . Support a local business, even if it’s just a cup of coffee or a delicious meal.pizza and coke

So I was in a funk, and I wanted to eat pizza. Local pizza. Good, thin crust pizza – the kind you can only get at little neighborhood joints. I wanted to sit IN A BOOTH with my family and a big ol’ glass of Coke.

So we did. And a few things happened:

  1. I learned that this little business is seriously dear to the community – I checked in on Facebook and was amazed at how many friends left gushing comments, “We LOVE Pizza Flame!!!!” “We used to go there all the time when the kids were little!!!!” “SOOOOOOOOOO good!!!!!”
  2. We had delicious pizza, just what I was hoping for! And excellent service, friendly and efficient! No wonder they have great reviews 🙂
  3. I saw the upholstered booths in question, and my happy, full tummy sank. So many!!!!  And old enough to need more than spiffy new vinyl . . . This was no “one person in her spare time” job – this was a massive undertaking – the kind that takes serious hours, a serious crew, and a serious plan.


So I went home and sent Nikki an email, first to say how impressed we were with our dining experience, and secondly, to propose that we collaborate.

I’ve done a few restaurant projects, and I knew what Nikki was getting into. I also knew that Nikki is really, really nice: Probably too nice to ask for lots of help and then boss everyone around.

I offered to help for a weekend, and to try and recruit the rest of our advanced group for a field trip – they were Nikki’s friends, after all, and interested in learning about upholstery. This would be a valuable experience, one they would not get in class: commercial is VERY different than residential, and several in our group hadn’t yet worked with vinyl  (“You can use a heat gun!!!) I hoped that with a good plan and a couple of days, we could knock out a quarter of the work, and in the process, show Nikki how to “run a crew” of her own.

Nikki and I met at the restaurant one morning to carefully calculate foam, vinyl, and supplies. Then began the estimating and layout. When you tackle one booth at a time, you never order enough to get a price break. You may also have inconsistency in color or quality. And you’re bound to incur more waste every round. By looking at the bigger picture, we were hoping to achieve a better outcome, AND a better bottom line.


Next, we planned and assembled our helpers: For a big project like this, you want enough hands on deck, and not all those hands are the same. Our dream team looked something like this:

  • 1-2 people to tear back, clean-up, carry stuff. Not necessarily skilled, just strong and tireless and cheap. First choice: teenagers.
  • 1-2 strong, handy, mechanically inclined people to deconstruct and reassemble booths: a “simple” task that can end badly if parts get mixed up, damaged or sloppily installed.
  • 1-2 competent, detail oriented folks who could be trained up quickly to do repetitive tasks independently with few mistakes. These would be our cutters, first and foremost, time consuming work where messing up is expensive.
  • 1-2 experienced upholsterers, handling the most technically challenging tasks, hopefully with speed and consistency and very few questions.
  • 1-2 supervisors/floaters: Me and Nikki – the people who keep the whole gravy train moving, try to make sure there are no idle hands, problem solve on the fly, make decisions, delegate whenever possible, jump in where help is needed.

These positions aren’t set in stone, and we were blessed with a flexible crew: just about every person contributed in multiple ways.  But it’s good to have a notion of where you need people going in, and to note where you may be weak.

IMG_4185When the weekend in question arrived, Nikki and her husband Dyno stayed after close on Friday night to pull and load the pieces we’d tackle first: anything that could easily be transported offsite, or that required sewing: When you do work for a business, you want to cause the least disruption possible. Anything we could reasonably do offsite we WOULD do offsite – that way, the restaurant could stay open and just rope the section off. Plus, it’s usually easiest to do upholstery in a space that’s, uhhhhhhh, designed for upholstery!!


Ready BREAK!

Saturday morning was a flurry of unloading and tearing back – so many pieces! So many staples!!! So many hours!!!! While everyone helped out on tear back, Nikki’s daughter and my niece bore the majority of the task.  Some of the booths were a two-for-one special: multiple layers of vinyl from a long ago update. Lucky, lucky Risa and Katrina, NOT! If you’ve ever tried upholstery, you can imagine how awesome their hands felt by day’s end.

Meanwhile, Nikki got to work training her friend Crystal – we wanted to cut everything for the entire weekend on the shop’s large table, starting first with the welt and seats, which needed to be sewed ASAP. Crystal was as focused and competent as Nikki had promised – she tackled hours of careful measuring, marking and cutting with no errors and very little support, which left the rest of us free to sew and put together.


Kara from our Tuesday advanced group spent a huge part of the day sewing welt, since she’s familiar with the industrial beast machines – they can be ornery! And vinyl does NOT look kindly on rework! Sewing up some 2,000″ of welt is no small task, yet she also found time to hunt down a steamer when mine kicked the bucket- who knew Amazon could deliver something as random as a steamer in under an hour???? Well . . . KARA knew.


Lindsay, also from our Tuesday group, and the tireless owner of A Chick & a Chair Upholstery, cruised through lots of our upholstery tasks with speed and consistency. Lindsay is super competent in the upholstery shop, but by day’s end her hands were pooped!!! That’s one of the tricky aspects of vinyl and commercial upholstery – even with strong hands and the right tools, most of us have physical limits to how many hours we can pull. Push those limits, and your body is sure to say KNOCK IT OFF!!!!!


So what did I do all day???? Mostly sewed booth seats and tripped over things. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.IMG_4179

We put in a looooooooong day, everyone worked like crazy, I mean FOR REALS. It was really important to get enough done Saturday that we could definitely finish on Sunday – we didn’t want to leave the restaurant dismantled, and it’s hard to estimate timelines with so many variables. We had most of the seats and caps finished, and everything cut and sewn. By the time we staggered home, there was nothing to do but hope we could wrap it up tomorrow. . .



Turns out, our long Saturday paid off. After a breakfast of donuts (!!!!!) we worked like our hair was on fire. This was the messy day, pulling booth frames apart and trying our darndest to work in a space designed for enjoying delicious pizza. But we did okay!!!!! My teenage son and nephew were on board for tear back, something they’ve been suckered into oh-so-many times before. They had help from a few more of Nikki and Dyno’s relatives and friends, it was truly a VILLAGE!!!!

We were also joined by the Fabulous Amy Oh, and GIRL, does she know how to WORK!!!! After kicking through the odds and ends from Saturday, she and I focused on the backs, the slowest and trickiest part of the day. They had previously been upholstered with channels, but  in the interest of time and sanity, we planned for new foam, and just pulled the vinyl tight. Bucco saved hours in the bank!!!! Nikki and Dyno selected a beautiful commercial grade vinyl from C.F.Stinson, a nice compliment to the simple solids used on the rest of the booth.

Lucky for us, Amy also dragged her husband along: Dean of Renovation by Dean –  he showed up with a couple of compressors, a truck full of tools, and the boundless energy of a giant puppy. He and Dyno were all hands on deck, pulling apart frames and putting pieces back together. There’s always little issues at this stage, and it helps to have handy people who can problem solve on the fly.


Nikki and Crystal tag teamed the upper bases like a couple of old pros, and were already discussing plans for the next batch. Go, boss, go!!!!!!
As booths started to come together, I must say, it looked dang good, as did the proud, tired people who kicked in to make it happen.

Sunday was so efficient, we even had time to enIMG_4224joy pizza together, and the boys got to play a little  PacMan. Then, of course, we had to clean up about 10, 0000 staples. I’m
pretty sure we broke the vacuum . . .

What a long and fun weekend project this was!

The funny thing is, if you ask me tomorrow to bid a similar project, I’ll decline. . .  I’m not set up for commercial work, and I don’t want to be. The estimating is time consuming and tricky, the work is relentless and physical, the logistics are an endless headache. I like teaching 🙂

IMG_4241But this . . .I’m so glad we did THIS

I love that this little restaurant exits, and that the community has so enthusiastically embraced it.

I love that they have a dining room: a warm place to gather and relax with friends, instead of just bringing a pizza home.

I appreciate that self-employment is a weight carried by the entire family – from Dyno working long hours, to their kids waiting tables, to Nikki learning upholstery in her spare time.

I loved seeing so many people willing to give up a weekend and help out, even smiling and laughing – mostly 😉

I loved that Nikki used  her upholstery skills to help her family, and that her family helped her help, HA!

I loved that Nikki’s upholstery friends stepped up with their time and skills and encouragement.

I can’t wait to see the rest of the project unfold. A booth is nothing special. But a booth in your family’s adorable restaurant, reupholstered by a crew of your friends and relatives? that’s pretty special: It’s like a little reminder that the world is a good place, full of good people, willing to pull together, to learn and help and bust up their knuckles on the weekend.


And apparently, some of those people love small businesses and thin crust pizza just as much as me 🙂

Pizza Flame in Coon Rapids celebrates its 40th anniversary this year – stop by to say hello, enjoy a pizza and check out the start of their fancy new booths!

(763) 757-5100







3 thoughts on “Operation Pizza Flame: Our first upholstery field trip”

  1. How wonderful!! I am one of those who lived in the neighborhood and grew up on Pizza Flame pizza, not only do I love that it is still around, but owned by a fellow classmate who has kept the tradition alive!!!! Can’t wait to check out the new look when I am home next!!!

  2. we use to enjoy, so much, the Pizza Flame on Osborne Road in Fridley, looks like we will have to look you up and see if its as good as that one was.
    By the way the place looks great!

  3. Pingback: “The Somewhat-Secret Upholstery Experiment.” – The Funky Little Chair

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