AUGUSTA — If you’re looking for conventional wisdom on starting and growing a business, Anthony Allen and Mike Keon are not your guys.

The pair behind the successful OTTO Pizza, with restaurants from Yarmouth to Cambridge, Massachusetts, seem to have defied any wisdom passing as conventional from the moment they decided to open a pizza shop in a tiny space in Portland in 2009, right around the time the U.S. economy hit bottom.

Allen and Keon were in Augusta on Tuesday delivering the keynote address at the Mainebiz Momentum Convention 2015 at the Augusta Civic Center. The theme of this year’s business-to-business networking and education event is managing growth.

And that’s something that Allen and Keon do know something about.

From their modest beginning six years ago, Allen and Keon have meshed their similar interests in food and restaurants to take an unconventional path to a level of business success that’s enviable by many standards. Today, OTTO Pizza has 10 restaurants and 325 employees.

“None of it was planned,” Keon said. “It was just the two of us trying to keep the lights on.”

Conventional wisdom says pizza places should be filled with televisions. Allen said it was a deliberate choice not to do that because they want to inspire conversation in their places.

Conventional wisdom also says success lies in a lot of menu selections. They are sticking with pizza at OTTO Pizza, and they are exploring burritos at OCHO Burrito.

“We are focused on one product and we do well enough,” Allen said. “We put a lot of attention into the ingredients we use. If we use mushrooms, we’re sauteing the mushrooms. We’re not opening a can.”

“We thought mashed potatoes would be good,” Keon said. “We put it out there, and people got almost angry. We said if you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay for it, and evidently people bought into it.”

A year later, the Food Network came knocking and proclaimed that pizza — with mashed potatoes, scallions and bacon — one of the best pizzas in America.

Conventional wisdom and a number of attorneys recommend against partnerships. Allen and Keon don’t have a formal business partnership, but they do have chemistry that works. Allen and Keon are also generous in crediting their staff with helping them achieve their vision, in some cases by defying conventional wisdom in whom they choose to hire.

“There are some good stories there. We’ve made a positive impact on some people and have given chances to people no one else would,” Allen said,

The three pieces of advice they would give to entrepreneurs are these: Plan carefully and recheck the plan, and accept that things will not always go according to plan; start small and stay that way until you are ready to grow; and stay true to your dream, even when distractions pull at you from all directions.

That second piece of advice carries some weight with them. Fresh from an event at Yelp in San Francisco where OTTO Pizza was named one of the 100 Top-Rated Businesses in America, they say 2016 will be a year of slowing down and focusing on what they have built so far.

They were not in Augusta to announce the opening of a new restaurant here in the immediate future. Further out, the picture is less clear.

“I wouldn’t say no,” Keon said.

“It’s not on the white board,” Allen said, adding that for expansion, they may consider locations farther north than their Yarmouth restaurant that opened in June.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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