From High Finance to Fagioli

by Kerry Hannon

Quitting a $500,000 a year Wall Street career to run your own Italian restaurant. Priceless.

The following is an excerpt from What's Next? Follow Your Passions and Find Your Dream Job by Kerry Hannon 

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"]Tim and Colleen Sheerer Tim and Colleen Sheerer[/caption]

It’s a sunny Sunday in September, and Tim Sheerer is not on the golf course with his fifteen-year-old son, Johnny, playing in the annual father-son tournament. Instead, he’s spending the day preparing meals for roughly 350 customers at la Cappella, an Italian bistro, in a Pittsburgh suburb. That’s the restaurant he owns and operates with his wife, Colleen. The cook has called in sick.

Sheerer, forty-eight, is okay with that. Missing the golf outing is disappointing, but it’s a rarity. In the six years since he traded in a $500,000-a-year Wall Street salary to start his own restaurant, he has spent many hours with his four kids, ages thirteen to nineteen, at various sporting events.

After graduating with an MBA from the University of Chicago, Sheerer spent over thirteen years rising through the ranks of Merrill Lynch’s U.S. Money Market Group, specializing in short-term corporate debt. He worked a crazy schedule — one  day in London, the next Milwaukee. Colleen was in charge of the kids and hugged the sidelines at their games. “I wasn’t able to be there for them,” Sheerer says.

Sports and family mean a lot to Sheerer. But he pressed on year after year for one more whopping January bonus — skipping the BMW, sailboat, and second home. In time, the couple saved enough to leave investment banking and head to Pittsburgh, his hometown.

The idea to move back home started to take shape in the spring of 2001, when Tim’s father, who had nearly died from a heart attack some sixteen years earlier, underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Then came the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Tim was not working in the World Financial Center that day, but the couple knew several people who died as the twin towers crumbled.

One month later, Tim turned forty. “I looked around, and I wanted more,” he says. The couple asked themselves what meant most to them. The answer was simple: family.

While the couple belonged to a gourmet-cooking club, the notion of operating their own Italian restaurant never crossed their minds. It just worked out that way. Tim’s sister knew of a new restaurant franchise venture moving into the Pittsburgh area.

Intrigued, Tim signed on and eventually leased retail space. He spent a year working in one of the chain’s existing suburban restaurants. He bused tables, washed dishes, sautéed, and more. “If I was going to ask someone else to do these jobs, I had to know how to do them myself,” he says. Ultimately, Sheerer extricated himself from the franchise operator, opted to open an independent restaurant, and named it la Cappella, or the Chapel, for the Fox Chapel community many of its customers live in.

la Cappella Restaurant
la Cappella

Tim’s energetic entrepreneurial spirit and business and finance background, combined with Colleen’s people skills, have made the effort rewarding. Restaurant regulars call Colleen the “ambassador” of the cozy, 110-seat dining establishment, which is tucked alongside a heavily trafficked strip mall. Three of the couple’s kids work as busers, hosts, and waiters. It’s a family affair.

Although eighty-hour weeks were standard early on for Tim, today the schedule is not so demanding. If one of the kids has a game, Tim will be there, oftentimes coaching. With four college tuitions in sight, la Cappella will have to show more of a profit in time. But for now, with a lower cost of living, no mortgage payment, and savings to tap, the couple has a cushion.

Tim’s dad, now nearing seventy-three, has also been able to see almost every one of his grandchildren’s games since the family moved to Pittsburgh. “You can’t put a price on that,” says Tim. “And then we look at our children,” says Colleen. “They’re happy and thriving.” Tim nods in agreement. “They’re our legacy. We made this move for them and their future,” he says as he heads back to the kitchen.

What's Next? by Kerry HannonKerry Hannon is the author of What's Next? Follow Your Passions and Find Your Dream Job (Chronicle Books) available May 1, 2010.  Click here to buy it on


by Kerry Hannon | Monday, May 10, 2010 | Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Buy or Start a Business

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