Alum feature: Meet Jason Kallingal of Life of Pie

Program: The Portland MBA

Graduation Year: 2012

Program Schedule: Part time

Please briefly describe your career path and what led you to choose The School of Business at Portland State.

I started a restaurant and bar called Paccini on Portland State’s campus when I was 22, offering $1 Beer nights on Tuesdays! Many of The School of Business faculty and administration were patrons, and after meeting them, I thought a graduate business degree would be a good fit for me and could help advance my career.   

In 2011, I sold Paccini to the Rogue Brewery and had the opportunity to study the sustainability of Tuscan Hilltowns in Italy as part of The Portland MBA. We stayed on a biodynamic and fully self-sustaining farm that had a wood fired pizza oven, and I learned how sourcing locally not only provides a fresher product, but also it helps support our community.  

When I came back to Portland, I worked as an economic development manager for ROSE Community Development and moved into the apartment building where Life of Pie is located on N Williams Ave. A wood fired Italian restaurant opened in the retail space below me, and when it went out of business, I told them I thought I could take it over.  We signed the papers and after a three week remodel, we opened Life of Pie.

What drew you to The Portland MBA, in particular?

I lived and worked near the campus and was already immersed in the community. It felt like a very inclusive environment where I would be challenged. I also appreciated the focus on sustainability.

What skills have you found most valuable in your career?

Empathy: Being able to understand guests’ and teammates’ experience helps us treat others as they want to be treated. 

Communication: Listening to feedback from guests and teammates, and then sharing what we’ve learned with everyone ensures we’re on the same page and helps us improve daily. 

Initiative: Using what we have learned to take action and adjust as needed.

What inspires you?

People, especially the skills and talents of those around me. I am inspired by the growth I have seen in people when they are properly trained, challenged and given the trust and freedom to do their job.

What does “redefining business” mean to you?

The pandemic is “redefining business” for us. When we were forced to close, it was scary. However, we took it as an opportunity to focus inward. We continued to invest in our team by providing free health insurance and working with our management leaders to solidify long term goals and priorities. We are creating systems and processes to ensure that we are working towards those goals and priorities in a meaningful, measurable and sustainable manner. Those investments helped us make the most of a difficult situation and set us on the course to long-term success. 

No one could really predict something like a global pandemic happening, and I had no idea in how many ways it would affect my business. Keeping our values in mind while making decisions has been huge. Asking what will be best for the health and wellness of our community and team members can be hard, but it is necessary. Most of all, we’ve learned that we are a resilient and adaptable bunch, and people love pizza!

Life of Pie is forming an equity committee to help create action, awareness and education for equity in your organization and community. Can you share more about that?

We are working on opening the equity committee to all, devoting our time to creating systems and procedures that will help encourage healthy dialogue around difficult issues. It helps us actively seek out perspectives and encourage dialogue. While I have been available to listen in the past, I now understand it can be difficult for groups to come forward with issues, especially when they feel vulnerable or unsafe. We hope this will be a catalyst for change in our organization, and then we can use it to affect positive change in our community. 

What advice do you have for current or prospective graduate business students who are interested in entrepreneurship and restaurants? 

Just go for it! You won’t be perfect and there will be challenges, but if you treat others with respect and improve a little bit everyday, you can achieve whatever you want — unless a pandemic hits, then you’re screwed!

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