Mukilteo pizzeria celebrates 20 years of business

Michael Skeffington proud to have found recipe for restaurant success
By Nicholas Johnson | Aug 09, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Michael Skeffington checks on a pizza in the oven as his son prepares another order in the background Monday evening, Aug. 7, at Lombardo’s Pizzeria.

Among small business ventures, restaurants are known to have a particularly high failure rate, meaning they close within the first few years of business.

So when a non-chain restaurateur finds a recipe for success and makes it last, people – especially customers – take notice.

After 20 years this month of running Lombardo’s Pizzeria in Mukilteo, owner Michael Skeffington can say his recipe is time-tested. His advice to prospective restaurateurs: know what you’re getting into.

“People will say, ‘I like to cook; let’s open a restaurant,’” he said. “They open up and then realize it’s a ton of work. There’s always a lot of work, but knowing your stuff is the most important thing. A lot of places fail because they think too big at first.”

Skeffington knew as a teenager that he wanted open his own restaurant and cook his own food. Beginning at 15, he washed dishes at restaurants in Issaquah. At age 18 in 1983, he got the chance to open a Skippers Seafood & Chowder House.

“We would go in there early in the morning and fillet all the fish for the day,” he said. “That’s when I first started cooking and taking on more responsibility.”

At first, he wanted to open a bakery, so he went to culinary school in California to become a pastry chef.

“I had a friend whose family had a bakery and I saw how early they had to get up – like 3 a.m.,” he said. “That was a little too early for me, so then I decided I wanted to have my own restaurant.”

At 25, he went to community college to study business while waiting tables. Soon, he became a general manager at Tony & Alba’s Pizza, opening a new restaurant in the San Francisco area. Then, he moved down to the chain’s flagship site in Silicon Valley.

“That was some of the best experience I ever got,” he said. “I did everything short of having my name on the bank account. That was the final step I needed to know I could do this myself.”

After moving back to Western Washington with his wife, who he met while working in restaurants in California, he stumbled upon an ad in the newspaper saying a mom-and-pop pizzeria just south of Mukilteo was for sale.

“I didn’t have a dime to open a restaurant, but it had everything I needed – location and equipment,” he said of his restaurant’s former location in a booming shopping center between the Speedway and Hwy. 99. “The place had been run by on old Italian couple from Brooklyn who had brought their two deck ovens with them.”

Skeffington covered the cost with help from his wife’s parents and a loan from his father, who had always known his son wanted to open a restaurant.

“Restaurants have such a high failure rate that banks aren’t exactly jumping for joy when someone comes in wanting a loan to open one,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without our families.”

Since first opening in August 1997, he’s had his share of bumps in the road. After about 3 months, he got a cease and desist letter from Lombardi’s Cucina because his restaurant was initially called Lombardo’s of Lynnwood.

“Because Lombardi’s was right above our name in the phonebook, they started getting a lot of calls from people looking for us,” he said. “I was determined to keep the name because it’s named after my godfather.”

Eventually, he changed the name to Lombardo’s Pizzeria, preserving the original dedication to his godfather, who lived on Staten Island, New York, and had sent Skeffington a fichus when he opened his restaurant.

“Twenty years later, that plant is still alive and in our entryway,” Skeffington said. “We call him Eugene.”

After 15 years, he decided to find a new location.

“When they built the overpass to 99, it bumped our shopping center off the Speedway,” he said. “We were literally along the Speedway when we opened and then we became invisible to our customer base. That hurt a lot of businesses there. Fortunately for us, pizza lovers are very loyal.”

Lombardo’s moved to it’s current location on the Speedway near the Future of Flight Museum, a location many had called cursed because so many other restaurants had failed there.

“I was confident I could make it work because I was coming in with an established customer base,” he said. “It’s been harder having a free standing building then being in a strip mall. Our rent is higher than it was, and we are the only reason to turn off the Speedway.”

Skeffington is proud of the relationships he’s built with his customers and the community.

“One of my favorite parts has been watching people grow up,” he said. “I really cherish having known so many of my customers throughout their lives. I’ve seen people come in with their children throughout the years. Now those children come in with their children.”

The business became even more of a family affair last summer when his 15-year-old son Patrick and 18-year-old daughter Allison began working at the restaurant.

“It was time to teach them a bit of responsibility,” he said. “I’m not a big believer in spoiling your kids. I had to earn my money when I was younger, and I want them to learn to work like I did.”

Skeffington, 52, said he expects his kids will eventually go off to college and pursue their own career goals. For his part, he plans to stick around until he can retire, which might be a while.

“This restaurant has been my life,” he said, “and I’m proud of that.”

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