NEW?ULM - Lee Sturm has devoted his life to making pizza.
The day-to-day life of a pizza connoisseur involves much more than just cheese and pepperoni, however. Just ask award-winning Sturm - he would know.
Sturm, the 15-year owner-operator of Happy Joe's New Ulm, received Manager of the Year for 2014 honors at the annual Happy Joe's conference held in Davenport, Iowa, last weekend.
Lee Sturm of Happy Joe’s Pizza in New Ulm was recently named Manager of the Year at the company’s conference in Davenport, Iowa.
Although others might consider this title to be a career highlight, Sturm just accepts it and moves on. "I don't like to look at awards as crowning achievements," he said. "I like looking at where it's come from."
Sturm initially became interested in applying at Happy Joe's because a friend had secured a job there. Former owner Gary Landreville, however, was not looking for any more workers.
Even though he was denied a job, Sturm offered to help Landreville unload the tables and chairs that the new restaurant would need for its opening. After he finished, Landreville changed his mind and offered Sturm a job. The local location of Happy Joe's opened its doors in November of 1979 with Sturm as the last person hired as a part of its opening crew.
Sturm continued to work at Happy Joe's off and on over the next 19 years before taking over the position of owner-operator in September of 1998. He credits some of his success to the restaurant's previous owner, Jeff Reinarts, who owned and operated the business for 15 years. "I was taught German," Sturm said, "that you pay debts off, you don't spend stupidly. ... You live within your means."
Reinarts' advice paid off. Happy Joe's is in its 35th year of operation and is the third-longest running restaurant in New Ulm after the Kaiserhoff and the Ulmer Cafe. Sturm believes his biggest accomplishment was simply keeping the restaurant open. "It's a hard thing to keep a restaurant in the same facility for 35 years," he said.
Sturm employs many high school and college students as waitresses, cooks and drivers. The youth involvement is Sturm's favorite part of his job because it gives him an opportunity to get to know the kids and watch them grow.
Sturm credits the award to the work of his assistant managers, Travis Hermel and Darren Mielke, and his outstanding crew. He even insisted that the plaque he received did not carry his name, but was inclusive of the entire managerial staff. "Yes, there are some parts I do, but I can't do it by myself," Sturm said. " I didn't do it. We did it, and I really mean that."
After almost 16 years as owner-operator of Happy Joe's, Sturm is looking to step back whenever somebody is ready to take his spot.
"I've owned it for 15 years, and for the most part, it's been fun."