The Story of Steve Salis, Founder of Salis Holdings, and His Premium and Approachable Philosophy

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Jul. 28 2023, Published 2:44 a.m. ET

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Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? The simple answer is both. Historically, artists reflect the world through their work and inspire novel ways for people to relate to themselves and others. In the modern world, however, entrepreneurs, not artists, best understand how a creative vision can embody reality and spark an entirely new paradigm.

Similar to how artists uncover truths about the world that apply to all, but have yet to be articulated and express them through art to make them intelligible, entrepreneurs uncover problems plaguing consumers that have yet to be solved and provide products and services to fix them. Similar to how the best artists leave those who consume their work with an invigorated spirit and a new understanding of the world, the best entrepreneurs provide innovative solutions that drastically improve the quality of their consumers' everyday lives — invigorating their spirit all the same.

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Steve Salis, the visionary Founder of Salis Holdings, has successfully built, repositioned and scaled numerous brands, creating a new genre of heritage influenced modern yet accessible luxury built for today’s consumer standards. Salis skillfully taps into the mindset of the modern consumer to create scalable brands that resonate with consumers at the local level. Now, Salis excels in modernizing heritage items with a fresh twist, mindfully catering to current consumer preferences using the premium and approachable philosophy he has developed over the course of his career and life.

'Premium and approachable,' when juxtaposed with luxury, entails the same level of premier quality but in a way that is more accessible than the aspirational allure associated with luxury. By leveraging a premium value proposition that makes the inaccessible aspect of luxury more approachable (read: accessible more frequently), Salis has cultivated a unique ability to modernize heritage items and create highly coveted ‘third’ places that act as havens for locals who want to enjoy themselves outside of their homes and offices. A 'third place’ is a popular way to reference the physical spaces, other than homes and offices, crucial for a balanced and happy life, whether it is a restaurant, bar, bookshop, movie theater, et cetera.

However, this philosophical purpose was not always obvious to Salis, particularly at the beginning of his career.

Inspired by Bernard Arnault, Francois Pinault, Todd Boehly, and others, Salis has come a long way from a D1 Basketball recruit and college dropout. Growing up in New Hampshire, Salis was a basketball prodigy, becoming a McDonald’s All-American nominee in High School, earning an opportunity to play Division 1 basketball at the University of New Hampshire. Quickly, Salis realized that despite his talent, basketball was not for him, neither was college in general. Trusting his gut, he took a risk and dropped out after his sophomore year to move to New York City. While some high-profile tech founders have since popularized and romanticized dropping out of college, when Salis did it, this type of decision was far from the norm and met with a high degree of skepticism from those closest to him.

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Nevertheless, Salis followed his intuition and entered the fashion industry, signing a modeling contract with Boss Models in its heyday in the mid-2000s. On the side, the young entrepreneur worked catering jobs to get exposure to the food and beverage business. Salis eventually entered the nightlife scene, becoming a doorman at many of the top nightclubs in the city at the time. The gig allowed Salis to see another side of the hospitality business at night as he furthered his knowledge working at restaurants and hotels with top operators during the day. Having garnered a mosaic of crucial formative experiences in NYC, particularly in the hospitality industry, Salis felt ready to move on. After one visit, he decided to move to DC to start his next chapter.

Salis co-founded &pizza in DC in 2012 while in his mid-20s, using the money he saved from working various jobs in Manhattan. The story of &pizza is the core experience that enabled Salis to develop his premium and approachable philosophy, eventually leveraging it more formally in the future to scale brands and create this novel understanding of heritage and luxury.

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Salis asked himself what he wanted to experience as a modern consumer. Salis understood that despite the historical difficulty for hospitality entrepreneurs, the solution was simple — use the best products, create the best environment, and offer it at the lowest cost possible. “Little did I know, I was offering ‘premium and approachable’ many years before I recognized I was doing it…I just innately knew what I was doing, I suppose,” Salis recalls.

By creating a micro-market merchandised brand that maintained its smallness and continued cultivating its relationship with local markets by staying thoughtful of the communities and what moves them while scaling up, Salis learned how to drive usability and maximize frequency to each of his establishments as he expanded. &Pizza grew to over 55 locations throughout five states and DC while never veering from his commitment to providing consumers with a quality made-to-order product utilizing superior ingredients at an affordable price point. This paired with his explicit effort to create a modern and comforting environment for consumers to completely forget about the hustle and bustle of work and the worries of the outside world, has enabled Salis to create third spaces and reinvent quality experiences for American consumers regardless of regional market.

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“I strive to create a high standard for the experiences that define our daily lives,” Salis affirms.

His track record speaks for itself as Salis exited &pizza in 2019 at a nine-figure valuation.

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Since founding Salis Holdings in 2015, Salis has been following this virtuous circle, moving through his progressions, checking all of his boxes, and leveraging his premium and approachable philosophy to reinvigorate stressed or neglected heritage brands and create experiences modern consumers truly want. Salis states, “As we scale, we have to stay nimble and responsive, but we also have to make sure we are actually running really good businesses, right?”

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Arguably the greatest strength of this philosophy is its overarching nature, enabling Salis to apply it to any industry. Whether he is buying a restaurant chain like Ted’s Bulletin for a discounted price and increasing its value substantially in five years or overhauling retail stores, hotels, social clubs, and more, Salis’s premium and approachable philosophy is agnostic and universal as it is powerful. With a vast and varied portfolio, Salis is behind Good Morning America’s “Best BBQ in the country” and 4x Bib Gourmand Michelin award winning BBQ restaurant brand, Federalist Pig, category defining modern American restaurant brand Ted’s Bulletin, and the iconic indie bookstore brand Kramers, 2x Michelin Bib Gourmand award winning Honeymoon Chicken, along with Sidekick Cafe, and others. Additionally, Salis has a large and growing real estate holdings portfolio and announced late in 2022 a nearly billion-dollar lithium battery merger in the public market space through his blank-check company, Sizzle Acquisition Corp (SZZL). Through a melange of entrepreneurialism, professionalism, the ability to know when to buy, and an understanding of the best way to structure a deal, Salis walks the line between the science and art of driving a creative vision into reality. Salis maintains this process is “just so slightly” more of an art than a science, and his ability to tap into both gives him a unique edge. “It’s not linear at all,” according to Salis, “Is the World that linear?"

In the food and beverage industry, where many talented individuals crash and burn, especially those without culinary backgrounds, Steve Salis has carved out a place for himself amongst the other top entrepreneurs and investors. With an unparalleled ability to create high-value consumer-centric brands in the restaurant, bar, and hospitality industries, Steve Salis is this generation’s Tilman Fertitta, but with a more modern and all-encompassing approach.

Steve Salis's journey embodies the pursuit of creating the best version of anything - no matter what field or industry he is operating within. With an unyielding commitment to his premium and approachable philosophy, Salis has revolutionized the hospitality industry, transforming stressed heritage brands into highly coveted and modernized experiences. Through the ideal amalgamation of entrepreneurialism and professionalism, Salis has established a vast and varied portfolio, going beyond the food and beverage industry, including real estate and even the public market space. His ability to tap into both the art and science of driving his creative vision into reality sets him apart as a true maverick. Having just turned 40, Salis has no plans to slow down and is passionate about continuing to create brands that resonate deeply with residents across all local markets. Check out his website for more information on Salis Holdings and its hospitality brands.


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