EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
MARBLE FALLS — Chicken wings and $5 pizzas weren’t on Rene Jackson’s radar about six years ago. The then-Army lieutenant colonel was wrapping up three decades of military service.
“My plan was to put in 30 years,” Jackson said. Then, cancer struck. This wasn’t the first time either. “I fought cancer twice. The first time nearly killed me.”
This time, Jackson beat it and accepted a medical retirement two years short of his 30-year military goal.
He found himself, like many veterans, pondering his future and went looking for his next endeavor.
“I was at home going through chemo and began looking into franchises,” he said.
Franchises are typically linked to “big” name companies, allowing someone to go into business without creating one from scratch. Jackson looked at several options, including Subway, Brake Check, and Meineke. The one that floated to the top on the former Army logistic officer’s list was Little Caesars.
That’s right, the take-out pizza shop that features a toga-wearing character who says, “Pizza, pizza.”
Little Caesars, Jackson explained, had two things going for it.
“They had a great business model,” he said, “and they had a great veterans program.”
In fact, Little Caesars offers two veterans programs: Tier 1 and Tier 2. While one is open to all veterans, the other is aimed at disabled veterans like Jackson.
“It’s competitive,” Jackson said about the veterans program, “but I got called to Detroit, and now here we are opening our fourth one in Marble Falls.”
The state-of-the-art Marble Falls store at 1304 U.S. 281 is slated to open in September.
On the surface, it’s a fast-food restaurant that serves pizzas and chicken wings, but to Jackson, it’s more. He understands some might shun a franchise, especially a pizza place, but he pointed out that the Little Caesers model offers people a quick, economical meal.
“Efficiency is a big part of what we do,” he said. “When you come in here, we’ll have pizzas ready. You don’t have to wait 30 minutes for a pizza. You can be in and out in two to three minutes.”
When Little Caesars introduces its smartphone app and on-site kiosks later this year, that time could be sliced in half or more.
Plus, it’s economical. Jackson understands many people are watching every dollar that comes in and goes out of their budget. Eating out can be a luxury for many families.
“You give me $10, and I can feed your family,” he said.
Quality is also a big part of the model.
“Everything we make is fresh,” Jackson said. “We’ll make the dough here every day. Same with the sauce. All our ingredients will be fresh.”
The freshness, he pointed out, figures prominently in the Little Caesars model because he can keep only what he needs on hand. As his inventory begins to decrease, new supplies come in.
As the shop gets running, Jackson anticipates hiring up to 40 people but probably keeping 28 or so employees once things settle down. He added that while it’s not a high-paying job, Little Caesars and other similar businesses offer young people a good starting-off point.
“A lot of (the employees) will be kids in college or high school who are working after school,” he said. “A job like this, it’s going to teach them responsibility and punctuality. It’s not a hard job, but they can learn a lot from it.”
Jackson plans to support local nonprofits and school activities as well.
While he could have gone the “start-from-scratch” business route, Jackson said a franchise such as Little Caesars allows him to be a business owner without a lot of the risk.
“It would have been a lot harder to do it on my own,” Jackson said. “Behind me stands literally an army of researchers and others who’ve done the research. If Little Caesars says open a store in Marble Falls, they’ve done the research. They know it will work.”
The key to a shop’s success comes down to one thing.
“We have a great product, our pizza and chicken wings,” Jackson said. “The difference, what I bring, is customer service. I always try and put myself in the customer’s shoes. The military was all about dignity and respect. Treat the customer well, they’re going to come back.”