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Vicki Snell and Krysta Pleyte: Making It Your Own

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When you hear the phrase “make it your own,” pottery and pizza are probably not the first things that come to mind, but for mother-and-daughter duo Vicki Snell and Krysta Pleyte, this theme runs strong in their family and their businesses. Vicki, owner of The Mud Mill, a charming do-it-yourself pottery store in downtown Lodi, has been serving the community with customized pottery projects for close to 20 years, and right next door is Smack Pie Pizza, a customized top-it-yourself pizza establishment that she and Krysta have owned and operated since 2014.

Both businesses are a hallmark of the thriving downtown Lodi community; Vicki and Krysta know part of that success stems from a family-first mentality. “You have to put your family as a priority,” Krysta said. Keeping this mindset has allowed them to maintain their businesses while working through the challenging points, especially during the pandemic. “What seems hard now will one day be your warm-up,” advised Vicki. While mom-and-pop businesses struggled, Smack Pie Pizza and The Mud Mill were able to stay afloat. “Things came out in the last couple of years that we didn’t know and we had to remind ourselves. ‘It’s going to be okay; let’s not stress out,’” remarked Krysta. That family support helped see them through the eye of the storm and prioritize family over business. 

Finding the Path
Customization was a family theme long before pizza and pottery, and operating family businesses side by side was not their original goal. Vicki’s role with The Mud Mill started long before Krysta considered opening her own business. Marrying at an early age, Vicki, then a stay-at-home mom, worked at preschools part time to supplement her income and recognized her passion for working with children. As Krysta grew and more children followed, Vicki continued to revisit the idea of working with kids but she wanted to explore the creative aspects. 

On a family trip to Phoenix, she saw a lively and inviting paint-it-yourself pottery store and envisioned the same for Lodi. She took a women’s entrepreneurial class, created a business and marketing plan and, in 2004, she opened The Mud Mill. As Vicki grew a reputation as a strong business owner, Krysta finished high school and attended UC Davis to pursue a career as a marriage and family therapist. During college, she worked at various restaurants, not realizing she was getting the training she would eventually use for her future business. After graduation, she followed her career in marriage and family therapy, but food was always in the back of her mind. When she and her husband, Clayton, were ready to start a family, she struggled with infertility, and the strain of seeing children and families often affected her; she needed a change to alter her focus. 

The Addition
Simultaneously, Vicki saw downtown Lodi evolving and recognized customers were always looking for a food stop after their time at The Mud Mill. “There weren’t a lot of family options,” she knew. If customers liked modifying pottery projects, then why not carry that over to the food trend of build-it-yourself pizza? With Vicky’s business experience and Krysta’s knowledge of the kitchen, Smack Pie Pizza opened in 2014. 

Krysta and Clayton opened a second business, School Grounds, a quaint coffee shop in a neighboring part of downtown Lodi, but as luck would have it, she became pregnant and her dreams of a family quickly followed. The first couple of years were tough, managing family life and two businesses. “My first baby was a restaurant, but when you have your actual children, the real world stops,” she reflected. “After three years, we sold School Grounds and focused on Smack Pie Pizza. My mother’s example of being a business owner has truly inspired my motivation. I think back on how she handled being a parent, that you’re never doing a hundred percent, and my mom gets that.”  

Finding Balance
Having Smack Pie next door to The Mud Mill allowed Krysta and Vicki the flexibility to balance family and work. The two admit that if the businesses weren’t next door they might not run so smoothly. Krysta’s sons Parker, five, and Cooper, three, are often found visiting their grandma at The Mud Mill while Krysta is serving up favorites such as the Date by Bacon signature pizza at Smack Pie. This partnership eventually gave her the opportunity to return to her profession as a marriage and family therapist assisting the One-Eighty Teen Center, where she supports adolescents and families in crisis and helps them with job readiness for other local businesses.

Looking back on their journey, Krista and Vicki recognize their business dynamic wouldn’t be possible without family adaptation. Vicki points out, “You have to make it work for you. You have more business longevity because it’s doable.”

The Mud Mill is located at 115 School Street and Smack Pie Pizza is next door at 121 School Street, Lodi, California; visit and to learn more.