Risk, Recession, and Unexpected Reward - In the heart of Littleton, Colo., sits a restored turn-of-the-century home, and in it a charming café. Among exposed brick and the warmth of lowered lights, diners at Café Terracotta bask in ambience while indulging in a breakfast-lunch menu that’s peppered with Southwestern flair. Come evening, the open kitchen offers eclectic upscale dishes described on The Restaurant Show as “far beyond what one normally finds in the burbs.”
Business is good for owner and entrepreneur Levi Pike, who bought the café in 2007 with a fellow CCU alum and has since become sole proprietor. From grade school onward Levi’s been fixed on entrepreneurial ideas. During his final semester at CCU, while studying alongside classmates, he obtained his real-estate license. Three months after graduation, he cofounded Kitz and Pike Real Estate, helping run it with great success for five years before opening Peak Real Estate which he still owns today.
Along the way, he’s helped bankroll an insurance agency, developed million-dollar homes in Denver, and bought into 30 realty investments that returned over 100 percent in capital. Yet the last several years have been some of the hardest in Levi’s life. Within days of purchasing the restaurant, the stock market crashed and the Great Recession began bowling its way around the globe.
Any entrepreneur will tell you, often from hard experience, the flip side to so much gain can be incredible loss. It’s a job where failure is often tantamount to success. During his real-estate operation downtown, Levi lost a quarter-million dollars, carrying just one house for a year before a buyer signed. In the first year at the café, “we were scraping pennies and lost maybe two or three percent,” he says. Still, he’s fond of the challenge and looks back on CCU as the foundation for what so far has been a remarkable career for someone just over 30 years old. From accounting courses to marketing, ethics, problem solving, and business law, what Levi appreciated most about CCU was getting a broad education at the hands of professors who’d spent their own long years in practice.
For students considering an entrepreneurial path, Levi is encouraging but warns against seeing only potential dollar signs. “First make sure it’s something you’re passionate about,” he advises. Levi’s endured grueling work hours, high stress, and fluctuating profits—ergo unpredictable paychecks—to get where he is now. They’re things he’s seen burn out plenty of promising entrepreneurs. What keeps him on course as markets ebb and flow, especially during a time of recession, is that he loves his job and can’t imagine doing anything else.
While the economy slowly rebounds, Levi’s in a holding pattern, maintaining his current businesses and investments but nothing else, saving up to stage the next big opportunity. It’s a practice totally opposite the lavish luxury portrayed by the media, but he’s ready for a break anyway after nearly 10 years on the go. “Things change, life changes,” he says, and while new and profitable ventures will come, he sees perhaps greater reward in quiet moments spent with his wife and kids.
Right now he’s savoring every chance he gets.