Age (or Youth) Is No Barrier

Franchising is attracting young entrepreneurs who see the field as full of opportunity. Some are working hard enough and have found the right niche to make their way to the top quickly. Take Gregg Majewski, who became chief financial officer of the Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich chain at the age of 22 after working only two months in what began as a summer internship position.

Majewski believes his work ethic is what sets him apart from others. "Jimmy John's gave me an opportunity that no one would ever have given a kid my age," he says. "No matter how old you are sometimes you are able to achieve the same things people who have been in the industry years and years achieve as long as you have the right work ethic and desire to accomplish something." Younger entrepreneurs represent an untapped resource, he says, often bringing fresh ideas to old concepts. That is what Majewski hopes to accomplish with his latest franchise venture, Wildcat Investments, LLC, a franchise development company in Chicago.

Like all successful business people, Majewski put in quality time learning how to succeed. For example, to get the experience he needed at Jimmy John's, he initially went through a boot camp experience, spending two weeks as an assistant manager at the chain's highest-volume store near the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, Ind., to master store operations.

He did that and more. Under Majewski, Jimmy John's grew from 40 locations to more than 200 before he left in June 2003 to launch Wildcat. While at Jimmy John's, he focused on staying true to founder Jimmy John Liautaud's principle that a detailed system must be in place and followed each day for a restaurant to succeed.

Operating techniques

Majewski says he also learned a lot about running restaurants from working in the family business as a teenager. His father runs a precision machining and manufacturing company in South Elgin, Ill. Starting at the age of 14, Majewski learned the ins and outs of the operation, sanding small parts, working in shipping, doing janitorial chores, and whatever else was needed.

His father gave him a good background on setting goals and achieving them. "He taught me that you don't fly by the seat of your pants. My father worked a ton of hours, took some huge chances, and succeeded," says Majewski.

Above all, Majewski learned that all businesses have to follow a specific system to be successful. While most restaurants in the franchise industry have a system for food preparation, they don't always have a system detailing the rest of the operation, he says. He plans to change that in his new food franchise ventures, right down to a specific checklist on what needs to be done before closing for the night.

Still only 30, Majewski today is applying all his energy, background, and experience to Wildcat Investments. Before starting Wildcat, Majewski and his partners evaluated eight or nine other existing franchised concepts ranging from quick-serve to full-service restaurants. Instead, they decided to start from scratch with new concepts to ensure more quality control--and success. "I want my franchisees to win every day they are involved with me and love what they do, because if that happens they are going to buy additional stores," he says.

Wildcat is currently franchising two new food concepts: Jerseys Pizza & Grill, a new sports-themed, friends-and-family, casual eatery; and Patty Burger, an innovative quick-serve hamburger chain.

Jerseys will have television screens throughout the restaurant and feature a stadium-type seating area. Menu items include wings, chili, burgers, pizza, and salads. Besides always showing the "big game," Jerseys will also feature highlights from Little League games and other local sporting events each week. Majewski expects to have two locations open at the end of 2006. The franchise investment will range between $900,000 and $1.3 million for freestanding suburban or end cap locations.

Patty Burger features burgers made of 100 percent ground Angus beef that is never frozen. The burgers will be "hand-pattied" on the premises and cooked on a flat-top grill in front of the customer. Buns will be baked fresh daily at each location. The menu will be limited to burgers, chili, fries, and shakes.

"This simple, but quality menu is what made others successful and what franchises have forgotten along the way," says Majewski, noting that all of today's major burger chains started out with just one main menu offering before the trend of adding specialty items took over.

Even though a burger restaurant may sound old hat, Majewski says, "I don't think there's a winning product out there yet. I think I have a product that will produce an outstanding return, especially in the Midwest."

Three investment partners have joined Wildcat in launching Patty Burger: Lisa Simeone and Gina Deary, founders of the Simeone Deary Design Group of Chicago, which completed the interior designs of both Jerseys and Patty Burger; and a private investor.

The first Patty Burger was scheduled to open in second quarter 2006, with plans to open two more by the year-end. Urban locations and sites near college campuses with high-density populations will be targeted initially, with subsequent growth in suburban and mall locations as the chain matures.

The initial investment will be $150,000 to $250,000. Royalties are 5 percent along with a 1 percent fee for a creative fund dedicated to local advertising. The franchise fee is $15,000 for the first location with a sliding scale that drops to $7,500 for four or more stores. The Patty Burger concept was designed to appeal to both multi-unit investors as well as individuals who want to run their own franchise.

Majewski also believes there are other new food concepts to be developed and will apply his basic success principles to any other concepts he fashions in the future. Above all, he expects anyone who joins him in these ventures to have the same passion he has about succeeding. It takes hard work, determination, and a passion for the restaurant business. Being young, intelligent, and full of energy doesn't hurt, either.

Joan Szabo is a Virginia freelance writer who specializes in finance.

Published: August 15th, 2006

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