A Fresh Approach
As customers walked into The Mixx’s new Hawthorne Plaza location, they were welcomed by a surprising greeter: Star, the 4-year-old daughter of owner Jo Marie Scaglia.
This particular day became Take Your Daughter to Work Day for the Scaglias when a schedule conflict arose with the nanny—just one of the dozen or so daily challenges that crop up when you’re a mom and a restaurant owner who works 90 hours a week. But they were making the
most of it.
Under the watchful eye of her mother and a store manager, Star eagerly greeted customers, handed them a menu and directed them to the counter where they ordered. All blond curls, blue eyes and charming personality, Scaglia’s daughter performed her self-appointed job like
“The greeter is one of the most important positions,” Jo Marie Scaglia said. “If done successfully, then the business will be successful.”
Moments later, Star cuddled up to her mom. They connected and chatted as mother and daughter. It’s clear that Star is the shining point of light in Scaglia’s universe. The young girl then headed to the office to draw and play under supervision. As workers in the kitchen and front counters bustled to prepare for lunch, Scaglia attended to the other baby she has raised from birth—The Mixx, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
In addition to Hawthorne Plaza, which opened this summer, The Mixx also serves customers at its Plaza and Power & Light locations. Last year, the business generated more than $3 million in sales between two locations. Scaglia projected that, with the addition of the third restaurant, sales will top $4 million this year.
Like her daughter, Scaglia was born into the restaurant industry. Her family opened and operated the Mario’s family of restaurants from 1969 through the ’90s. Scaglia moved to California when she was 23 and worked in the service industry as a bartender, server and manager.
She returned to Kansas City, started a catering business and began writing a business plan for The Mixx. Scaglia searched for a location more than two and a half years before opening her flagship restaurant near the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza branch a decade ago.
DESIGN WITH PURPOSE
While expansion has been a priority in The Mixx’s growth, Scaglia has not neglected her original location. She has spent $1 million on renovations at the Plaza store. A decade’s worth of heavy traffic had taken its toll on floors, counters and other fixtures.
“We remodeled at night. I had the construction crew clean up at the end of each day so we could open for business,” Scaglia said. “It was a long process, but we stayed open. Customers depended on us, and they loved seeing the progress.”
Scaglia could now better afford renovations and fixes that weren’t in the budget of the original buildout. Sustainable materials such as cork and recycled glass from Ripple Glass were used. Contractors reworked the plumbing and installed more durable flooring.
“We freshened up the look,” Scaglia said. “It shows to customers that we care. It prompts everyone to look at things with fresh eyes.”
Scaglia, fond of ’50s and ’60s design, immerses herself in every aspect of the business. Whether it is customer service, menu development or restaurant design, Scaglia weighs in from concept to the smallest detail in service of her vision.
Her latest location “was a major overhaul” and clear expression of her design sense.
“I’m a very visual person. I don’t have much time to read newspapers or magazines,” she said. “As a creative person, I think of a building material, food or product that I want to work with, then I do online research. I break it down, pull it apart, put it back together and make it my own. I had final say on use of materials.”
At the Hawthorne Plaza restaurant, a patterned, see-through wall with a ‘60s architectural motif divides the juice and coffee bar lounge from the main dining room. Lush swivel chairs are positioned around cozy cafe tables. Succulent plants in white pots on tabletops are a departure from stereotypical flowers and subtly reinforce the use of avocado green as a signature accent color.
Black-and-white patterned tiles echo the color scheme of tables and chairs in the dining room. Large panel windows and a skylight allow natural light to illuminate the interior. It’s a distinctive, vibrant space that reinforces the identity of The Mixx as clean, fresh and full of life.
Scaglia worked closely with the architect, builder and contractors to get the function and form of the design just right.
“With my personality, there’s one way to do something right,” she said. “You don’t cut corners.”
That philosophy also applies to every aspect of daily operations at The Mixx.
‘WE HELP PEOPLE EAT BETTER FOODS’
The Mixx specializes in serving healthy food at a value-driven price point in a quick-casual setting with consistent quality and friendly service.
“Quality and wellness comes from eating good food,” Scaglia said. “We help people eat better foods.”
Specialty salads, like the Sicilian-inspired Palermo Insalata, and signature sandwiches, such as the pretzel chicken sando and the salmon BLT, reflect the diverse dishes prepared with quality ingredients. Customers can build their own salads and sandwiches to order, plus add sides, soups and desserts.
Scaglia’s three locations represent a time-tested proof of concept for her business plan. Strong financial performance is a result of daily executing of smart working processes and customer service fundamentals.
To achieve this, Scaglia has applied a “casual, down to earth” management style. She values clear, open communication and training to develop and retain talented staff. Several loyal employees have worked at The Mixx for eight to 10 years.
“I know my employees. We mature as we grow older,” Scaglia said. “I find the right employee. We make adjustments to make them successful. My employees work as a team. They’re family.”
Scaglia doesn’t like to micromanage her staff. However, she has been active for the past 10 years in decision-making “on everything from design, staffing, menu development and operations.” She has no qualms about cooking, cleaning or managing as necessary.
Yet, as The Mixx has grown from “mom-and-pop” to a bigger business, Scaglia realized the need to adapt her hands-on style, foster employee growth and promotion from within the company.
“With the growth of The Mixx, I have increased the management team and now delegate several responsibilities,” Scaglia said. “By implementing more structure and delegating operational duties, I am able to focus on the creative element and vision of The Mixx, including the growth and expansion of the company.”
Scaglia has refined each location of The Mixx to appeal to its urban or suburban audience. Along the way, she has also established her own metrics for the business while paying close attention to annual sales growth.
“I take a more ‘passion-oriented’ approach to create a strong Mixx culture and work off volume,” Scaglia said. “Traditional restaurant costs and formulas look more at the bottom line. I pay attention to the bottom line, but more important are the food and health benefits a person may receive from healthy, mindful practices. It is important to have a successful and profitable company, but my passion for high quality of food at an exceptional value are high on my priority list.”
As The Mixx expands, Scaglia anticipates that the bottom line will increase and more opportunities will come.
As Scaglia has expanded The Mixx, she has been careful to retain full ownership of the business, shunning buyout offers. The Mixx’s success has also spurred competition. Other restaurant operations, backed by much larger entities with deeper pockets, have tried to replicate her concept to no avail. Aware but undeterred, she has remained true to her vision.
“If you are consistent with your core values, then you’ll be a winner in the end,” Scaglia said.
Her advice for other business owners?
“Make operations as foolproof as possible. If you foresee a problem, then fix it before it happens,” she said. “If there’s a problem, make it right before the customer leaves. Go beyond their expectations and make it right.”
Drawing on her experience with building and renovation, Scaglia advised, “Don’t take shortcuts even if it costs more money.”
She dislikes it when contractors ask, “What’s your budget?” Her response: What will it cost to get it done right?
“My core principle is that you can’t sacrifice quality,” she said.
Still, Scaglia understands the trade-off between ideal circumstances and a limited bank account.
“I’ve weathered lots of storms,” she said. “You make the best decisions you know how to make.”
Looking ahead, Scaglia has her mind on continued growth of the brand. She has evaluated options to scale the business, declining to share details at this stage. Whatever direction she chooses, she wants to retain the identity of The Mixx that she’s worked hard to create and refine.
“As you grow, your passion builds to become a bigger business,” Scaglia said. “There’s an opportunity to make the business bigger without losing quality and your purpose. I have never looked at myself as a small business owner. I focus on working hard.
I take risks to grow.”