For those of you who don’t know me let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am a second-generation franchisee, but my path to becoming a franchisee may be a little different than most would assume. My father started working for KFC Corporation in the early 70’s, and believe it or not, it wasn’t at a KFC restaurant, it was at a concept called Kentucky Roast Beef. This was at a time when a sandwich concept called Arby’s had hit the scene and was rapidly expanding. KFC Corporation had decided that it wanted to compete in this emerging market and did so by opening several locations in the Las Vegas, NV area. My father applied at, and started working at one of these locations and quickly moved his way up to Manager within a year or so. It was no surprise that the Kentucky Roast Beef concept didn’t survive, but one good thing came out of it, my father had gotten noticed. Before his restaurant closed his superiors asked him to move over and manage a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. He did so, and quickly became one of the top Managers in Las Vegas, and within a few years was running the busiest location in the market.
I am going to skip a few years and say that my father eventually came across an opportunity to purchase a KFC franchise in 1980 in a small Oregon town named Klamath Falls. The franchisee was so impressed with my dad that he offered to owner finance the loan, but they had to make a balloon payment of 20k after 90 days. This restaurant was only doing 375k a year, but my dad and uncle who became partners to do this acquisition believed in its potential. To meet their balloon payment obligation, they worked the next 3 months with only 1 other employee all day and night and believe it or not actually set up cots in the back room for them to sleep on at night. The times sure have changed! Since I am here writing this, you know that they were able to save enough money to pay their balloon payment and the rest as they say is history.
Throughout the years my older brother and I worked for my dad and uncle as they expanded their business from 1 location to 5. We each started out as cooks working for free for the first year, then moved up $1 per hour each year until we were making minimum wage which at the time was $3.35! We worked through High School, and then summers when we came home from college, until we eventually moved on to other careers. Todd went to med school and worked in open heart surgery, and I started a travel agency that brought Japanese tourists over from Japan to Oregon to take them on adventure tours such as snow skiing, snowmobiling, river rafting, etc. After 5 years of working in surgery, Todd had had enough of the stress and approached me to open a KFC on our own. Unfortunately, or in hindsight, fortunately for me, my business was not doing well because Japan was going through a recession and few Japanese were traveling abroad. The next year was packed with he and I researching out places we could build a new restaurant by studying the population counts in the back of a road atlas. This was of course before the internet was invented by Al Gore. We finally found a spot on the Oregon coast that had previously had a KFC but had closed because the previous franchisee had gone bankrupt. It took us the next year and a half to find a piece of property, qualify for a SBA loan, and finally, work with architects, and a contractor to get the restaurant built. Our father gave us lots of advice and help, but in the end, it was all on us to make this happen and put our future on the line like he had done 15 years before. As we were about to find out, sometimes history repeats itself. We planned for this restaurant to do about 20k a week, and as luck would have it, it did close to 40k. We were not prepared for this, and so for the next few months, we worked all day everyday just like our father had done before us, although we had the help of our younger brothers and of course Dad came and worked the pack-line like a pro!
Over the next 3 years we built 4 more restaurants in towns that had previously closed KFC’s. We worked extremely hard, trained a lot of people, and learned more than we ever did at college! Ok, I learned more, Todd was smart already.
Since our humble beginnings we have continued to build and acquire restaurants and count ourselves lucky that we get to work with incredible people in an incredible brand with rich history! A history that we learned by volunteering in our region, which got us involved at the national level, which helped us forge lasting friendships and immeasurably helped in our success! If you have held back on getting involved, there is no time like the present!
One of my favorite quotes is by Karen Salmansohn “The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.”
I look forward to working with all of you over the next year to make our AKFCF even better!
AKFCF President, Justin Stewart