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Vikings player tackles Pieology expansion


Viking Matt Kalil

In the fourth grade, being different is every kid’s nightmare, so having the janitor called into his classroom to raise his desk higher so his knees could fit under it wasn’t the kind of attention Matt Kalil was seeking at the time.

Today at 6’7” and 300 pounds, the Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle doesn’t mind standing head-and-shoulders above his peers. Living large is an advantage when your career is football, which in turn helps publicize his 34-store development agreement for three states with Pieology, a contender in the crowded assembly-line, fast-casual pizza niche.

Kalil, 25, doesn’t think of football as his life-long profession. “Football is not a career, it’s an experience,” he says. “I never want to take anything for granted.” Getting to the pros is all about luck—but those who do make it, “work hard to get luck,” he adds. Although he’s stayed fairly injury-free, there’s always that one tackle that could go wrong. The average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years; however, for players like Kalil, with at least one Pro Bowl appearance, the average shoots up to 11.7 years, according to the sports website Statista.

Kalil’s father, who also was a pro football player, taught him to “never play for the next paycheck.

“I was raised in a family that taught you to do smart things with money,” he says. “You spend what you have, not future earnings.”

Kalil was barely in his 20s when he received a four-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings worth $19.9 million guaranteed, plus a $12.8 million signing bonus, according to ESPN.com.

For many 20-somethings that would have been cause to party. But not Kalil.

He’s currently leaning on his father for operational help, since his “day job” requires him to concentrate on staying in shape full-time, in season and out. The National Football League doesn’t monitor the players’ off-season training, he says, but he can tell the difference in his performance when he’s on his “cheat period,” because instead of waking up ready to go at 5:30 a.m. like he is during football season, he sleeps until 9 a.m. and wakes up still on a “grease high.”

Kalil and his father are partners in the Pieology franchise, but “I’m 100 percent owner. That’s the kind of father I have,” he says, adding, with a smile: “I’ll take care of the parents.”

He also has the kind of father who expected his kids to do chores—for free, Kalil says, laughing. He remembers his dad pruning the trees and then leaving the tangle of branches for Kalil and his older brother, Ryan, to clean up. Kalil claims he did all the work, because his brother would threaten to come after him with a rake and make him run. “We had this white German shepherd who would pull you down if you ran,” he says, grinning.

His brother, who is five inches shorter and four years older, also plays in the NFL as a  center for the Carolina Panthers. Ryan continues to motivate his little brother, albeit without the rake. “We’re competitive under the table, but he wishes the best for me,” Kalil says.

Ryan has other interests, Kalil says, and no intention of getting a piece of his Pieology.

Kalil has development rights to Minnesota, where three are open, with plans for a total of 15 stores in the next four to five years. He also has the rights to open Pieology stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Austin.  

USC connections

As an alum of the University of Southern California, Kalil was granted the coveted rights to open a restaurant in a mixed-use development next to campus. A California native, he went to USC, he says, not only for the education, but for the business connections he would make. USC alum take care of each other, he says. That apparently extends to UCLA, because Kalil says he’s opened another unit in Westwood Village at UCLA.

The move to Minnesota from California wasn’t difficult, Kalil says, because “I have some wilderness in me.” He likes duck and pheasant hunting and the people he’s met in the Twin Cities “are genuine. They go the extra mile.”

It’s fairly easy to get press coverage of grand openings in Minnesota because of his Vikings status, he says, but he doesn’t hang any football memorabilia in the stores. “It’s Pieology’s brand, not mine,” he contends, but during grand openings, he does display a banner from the Vikings vs. Steelers game played last year in London. His father, he claims, cut down the banner from the stadium once the game was over.

Right now Kalil is satisfied with pizza; however, that may change when he’s no longer on the gridiron—or if In-N-Out Burger ever decides to franchise. Once he’s finished with football, he’ll concentrate on his “pizza empire.” . “Football’s not who I am, but it’s made me who I am,” he says—competitive and a playbook follower.


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