When Mark Laramie became president of Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza on Jan. 1, few were happier than Scott Adams, CEO of Nick-N-Willy's World Famous Take-N-Bake Pizza.

Yes, a competitor, and a much smaller one. Score the store count Papa Murphy's 745, Nick -N-Willy's 33.

Adams' doesn't sound so crazy, however, if you understand his long-term outlook.

"We actually applauded when Mark took over the position because it brings more strength to (take and bake)," said Adams, whose company is based in Denver. Adams also knows Laramie from a brief period when both were executives at Quizno's Sub, also in Denver. "We think it's good for Papa Murphy's to do well, to grow across the country and open a lot of stores and basically help us build the category."

Mark Laramie, President, Papa Murphy's

What also has Adams high on Laramie's appointment is Laramie's pizza background.

At 17, Laramie went to work for Little Caesars in Allen Park, a suburb of Detroit, while studying political science at Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti.

After graduation in 1973, Laramie spent seven years in management at General Motors in Detroit, before returning to Little Caesars in 1980. Then a 400-store company, Little Caesars was preparing to go national, and its president thought Laramie could help it grow.

"I think I have pizza sauce in my veins," said Laramie, who helped lead Little Caesars' nationwide 4,800 store-opening binge during the '80s. "That was a great time. There were so many fun people I met along the way in that business as it grew."

As Little Caesars spread, Laramie climbed its corporate ladder to become vice president of franchising. He proved to be perfect man for the job, said former Little Caesars president Dave Deal, because of his natural rapport with store operators.

"He had the confidence of the franchisees, because he'd worked Friday night rushes, he'd opened stores and he'd helped them be successful," said Deal, who now is president of the Food Source, a procurement and distribution consulting group in Detroit. Laramie, he added, was a rarity in large pizza chains: a corporate officer who got franchisees to follow the company's lead willingly. "When somebody in the organization you've worked with, like him, comes to you with an idea for change, you're at least going to give it a hearing. He had their respect."

"I've felt for a long time that the pizza industry was begging for redefinition, begging for someone to come in and do it right. And that's what can be done with Papa Murphy's."

Mark Laramie, President
Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza

When Laramie stepped down from his corporate role to become a franchisee in 1988, Little Caesars had 5,200 stores. Nine years later, when he and his operating partner owned 52 Little Caesars, he sold out and went searching for another corporate appointment. He didn't have to look too long, as Quizno's Sub hired him as its COO in 1998.

The 350-store chain was struggling to grow from a regional company to a national one, and Laramie saw the opportunity to help it do what he did with Little Caesars. Switching from pizza to subs didn't make a difference, he said.

"There's no real magic to the restaurant business; you just serve a high-quality product in nice surroundings and give good service and people will come back," said Laramie. "When building a brand, the key is to have a strong marketing message that you fulfill with strong operations and customer service. In this business, too many people over complicate things."

Laramie's stay as Quizno's COO was relatively short but significant. By 2000 he'd accomplished what he was hired to do: Quizno's was 1,000 stores strong and growing at a pace of 100 units per quarter. A new owner was taking the company private again, and in a direction that didn't require Laramie's services.

But only a few months later, Quizno's Canadian franchise arm asked Laramie to become its CEO and lead its expansion efforts, including a UK launch.

After about six months, Laramie found the pace a little busier than he'd like. Now 50 years old, he was on the road 80 percent of the time but wanted to spend more time at home.

After leaving Quizno's Canada, he picked up short-term consulting contracts and kept an eye out for an executive-level position in foodservice. In 2002, he learned that an old contact of his, Terry Collins, owner of Papa Murphy's, wanted to fill a vacancy in the president's seat at his growing pizza company.

The two talked, and Collins invited Laramie to work as the company's executive vice president of operations in April of that year. If Laramie liked the job, he could assume the president's post in 2003.

Mark Laramie

Position: President, Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza
HQ: Vancouver, Wash.
Age: 52
College: Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Mich.
Degree: BS, political science
Wife: Kristan
Children: Nathan, 23; Clayton, 21
Hobbies: Fly fishing, golf, hiking
Quote: "Kristan, my wife of 29 years, is still my best friend, and she's the reason for my success. She's put up with a lot."

"Terry and I ... wanted to get to know each other again and establish a working relationship before either of us committed to something long term," said Laramie. "He was willing to take a chance on me, and he told me to figure out a way to make it work."

There he grows again

As has been his charge so often before, Laramie's purpose is to grow Papa Murphy's into a national pizza power. The task will take energy, experience and the right touch with franchisees.

Laramie's confident about his experience and touch, but mustering the energy will take some effort, he said.

"I'm not too worn out," said Laramie, 52. "but my body needs more tune ups than it used to."

About 40 percent of his time will be spent on the road with franchisees. The other 60 percent will be divided between fine-tuning Papa Murphy's corporate operations and growing unit numbers smartly.

"We will never grow for growth's sake," said Laramie. "We're starting a very selective franchise expansion program, and with that we want to keep opening about 100 stores a year."

Deal said he believes only some of his old friend's "I'm slowing down" story.

"I know he wants to throttle back a little bit, but not too far back," said Deal. "He's the kind of guy who wants to be in a situation where there's a high level of energy and excitement."

If Laramie unleashes his legendary ability to motivate franchisees, Deal added, he may find it hard to throttle back at all.

"He knows how to teach operators how to make money," Deal said. "That's the name of the game, and that's where he's strongest."

Regardless of his own abilities, Laramie insists Papa Murphy's growth will come by capitalizing on the company's main uniqueness: take-and-bake pizza.

Back when the pizza industry began to boom in the late '70s and early '80s, Laramie said the large pizza companies had their niches -- Domino's Pizza with delivery, Little Caesars with value pricing and Pizza Hut with dine-in. Now, however, their differences are blurred.

"They don't draw a distinction with the customer anymore because all the lines are muddled," Laramie said. "I've felt for a long time that the pizza industry was begging for redefinition, begging for someone to come in and do it right. And that's what can be done with Papa Murphy's."

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