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Chains aim to attract military vets as franchisees

Reduced fees, other incentives recruit can-do team players who know how to ‘make things happen on schedule’


PADUCAH , KY. (May. 21) —Robbie Doughty’s Little Caesars pizza franchise here is his first venture in the restaurant business, but he’s pretty confident he’ll be successful, since he is accustomed to overcoming challenges.

From left: Michael Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars, with military veteran franchisees Patricia Evans, Vince Tripoli, Mark Molina and Robert Jones.

A former U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq, Doughty lost both his legs in a mortar attack nearly three years ago. He was determined to recover quickly after in-hospital visits from physical therapists and other amputees.

Doughty returned home on prosthetic legs in just a few months, a fraction of the time it takes the average person to recuperate from such serious injuries.

“It was one of those if-they-can-do-it-I-can-do-it type of things,” said Doughty, a Paducah native who was planning a long career in the military until the bomb blew up his Humvee.

It was that can-do attitude that caught the attention of Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars Enterprises and a sports and entertainment mogul. Ilitch, chairman of Ilitch Holdings in Detroit, had read about Doughty in a newspaper. Last fall, Ilitch offered Doughty a Little Caesars franchise.

The chain, which has more than 1,000 branches on five continents and is regarded as the industry’s largest carryout-only pizza brand, is one of more than three dozen restaurant companies that are among a couple hundred franchisors across multiple industries that offer some type of new-franchise incentives to military veterans, usually steep discounts on franchising fees. Such programs are attractive because they attract disciplined military veterans who are regarded as ideal franchisee candidates.

“They were trained by one of the greatest systems in the world—the U.S. military,” said Terry Hill, a spokesman for the International Franchise Association in Washington, D.C. “The franchise community is looking for people who know how to fit into a system, how to follow orders and processes, and make things happen on schedule.”

After the Gulf War in the early 1990s, the IFA launched VetFran, a program that connects franchisors with government agencies to attract and screen military veterans for possible franchise agreements. Franchisors, in turn, offer the veterans discounts on franchises.

The initiative has helped hundreds of veterans become franchisees. The association recently recognized former Marine Alan Martinez as the 700th franchisee recruited by the VetFran initiative. Earlier this year, Martinez and his wife, Kim, opened a Virginia Barbecue franchise in Fredericksburg, Va.

Martinez had spent nine years with the Marines and 11 years in the Coast Guard piloting helicopters before retiring. When he eventually took a job as a full-time pastor for a church, the couple looked for a franchise opportunity to supplement their income.

The Martinezes opened the eighth Virginia Barbecue store in March. The young fast-casual chain, founded by Rick Ivey, offered the couple $5,000 off—a 25-percent discount—on the franchise fee.

Robbie Doughty, a Paducah, Ky.-based Little Caesars franchisee who was wounded in the Iraq war.

“What’s so great about a franchise is a lot of the process and procedures are already in place,” Martinez said. “You don’t have to build them, just implement them. It’s like a turnkey.”

Ivey, a certified executive chef with 25 years of experience in the industry, opened the first Virginia Barbecue in 2000 and began franchising in 2004. He listed the company with the VetFran program as a way to advertise. The program is promoted not only through the IFA, but also the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Corp. and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Since joining the program, Ivey has signed three veterans, including Martinez, as franchisees.

“Veterans have the beauty of being trained to work in the system,” Ivey said. “They are not mavericks. Some people who sign on—they are entrepreneurs and they want to do their own thing and not follow the systems. Veterans are people who understand the value of working within set guidelines.”

Franchisors who participate in the IFA’s VetFran program, offering various discounts for honorably discharged veterans:

All American Deli & Ice Cream Shops Figaro’s Italian Pizza Marco’s Pizza Spicy Pickle
Great American Cookies Maui Wowi TCBY
Arthur Treacher’s Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli Restaurants New York Fresh Deli Togo’s Eatery
Baskin-Robbins Papa Gino’s/D’Angelo Sandwich Shops Wall Street Deli
Bearclaw Coffee Honeybaked Ham & Cafe Virginia Barbecue
Carvel Ice Cream Huddle House Pita Pit Vocelli Pizza
Checkers Drive-In Juice It Up Pretzel Time Wing Zone
Cinnabon Little Caesars Pretzel Maker Woody’s Chicago Style Pizza
Coffee Beanery MaggieMoo’s Pudgie’s Famous Chicken
Daily Grind Unwind Mandler’s Original Sausage Ritter’s Frozen Custard ZOUP!
Dunkin’ Donuts Salad Creations Schlotzsky’s Deli
Dunn Bros. Coffee Marble Slab Creamery Sargo’s Subs Seattle’s Best Coffee

At Little Caesars, honorably discharged veterans can receive up to $10,000 in benefits, including a $5,000 discount on franchise fees and a $5,000 credit toward equipment. Disabled veterans are eligible for up to $68,000 in benefits, which includes a full waiver of the $20,000 franchise fee and equipment packages. The chain will also help veterans negotiate with banks for financing.

Since signing on disabled vet Doughty and his partner, Lloyd Allard, who worked with Doughty in the Army’s Special Forces in Iraq, Little Caesars has received hundreds of calls from veterans about becoming franchisees, said Dave Scrivano, president of the company. The chain has signed up nine more veterans in the last six months.

The veterans program also has struck a chord with suppliers and the community, Scrivano said. Some purveyors also have waived charges or offered free services to Doughty for his store’s January opening.

“They are very appreciative of the service that the veterans have given to us,” Scrivano said. “When you step back and think about it, the U.S. is a free economy and a free country because of the people who have defended us over the years. This is a small way to give back.”


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