When Zack Brooks, owner of a Papa Murphy's restaurant in Boise, Idaho, first started as a manager with a six-unit Papa Murphy's franchisee in 2006, he had virtually no restaurant experience.
So when he purchased the restaurant earlier this year after coming into an inheritance, he already had a good ideal about what he was getting into "If I was somebody who didn't have previous experience working at a Papa Murphy's, I would have had to have gone through a lot more training," he said. "I was fairly well prepared."
And Nick Hersey, a former auto mechanic, discovered a passion for the restaurant business while working at Shakey's Pizza during his senior year in college.
Hersey and his father, Steve, bought the rights to develop Shakey's Pizza restaurants in Washington State and Idaho. Steve Hersey has worked in Shakey's IT department in the Los Angeles area since the mid-70s.
"The customer service aspect of the restaurant business came fairly easy to me," Nick Hersey said. "The big challenge was learning how to pay close attention to food quality and sanitation. It wasn't difficult, but I didn't know any of that before starting with Shakey's."
He enjoyed his time as an employee so much, he said, that after he graduated from college he and his father decided to open their own Shakey's.
"My father and I got to talking, and I had an interest in developing a bar and grill-type restaurant," he said. "During the conversation, it escalated to 'Shakey's is available for franchising, so why don't we take a look at that?' It just went from there." Companies offer franchise assistance
According to Dan Rowe, the cofounder of franchise development company Fransmart, spending some time as an employee before committing to buying a franchise can help a prospective owner decide if the operation is a good fit.
"When you are working for a company you get access to information and an insider's perspective you couldn't get being an outsider," Rowe said. "Among other things, you would learn if you really wanted to be in that business. Once you buy a franchise, it's too late to wonder."
The prospective franchisee would understand not just how to do things but why, Rowe said. And to top it off, he or she would be paid while learning all the best practices of running that concept.
Often, spending time as an employee can reap benefits not available to outsiders looking to purchase a franchise. Steve Hersey's employment with Shakey's made him eligible for a discount on franchise fees. He and son Nick plan to open a Shakey's restaurant in Spokane, Wash., this summer.
No. 3 pizza chain Domino's is taking the employee-to-franchisee scenario to a new level, recruiting college graduates, military veterans and others for its recently launched "Franchisee in Training" program, designed to prepare managers to someday own their own restaurants.
Participants will undergo a 24- to 36-month hands-on program that focuses on the operations and business management aspects of the company. Candidates will work a variety of management positions in restaurants and train in areas including effective supervision, franchise development and advanced computers.
Those who successfully complete the training program will be provided with $25,000 to help open their own Domino's.
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And more than 50 Little Caesars Pizza employees, ranging from restaurant workers to corporate executives, have transitioned to careers as Little Caesars franchisors after seeing the business from the inside.
Vicki Dunn Marshall was 16 years old when she got a job working as a crew member at a Little Caesars restaurant in Detroit in 1976. She subsequently worked in the corporate headquarters in the company's franchise development department before opening her first franchise at the age of 24.
She now owns 18 restaurants in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.
Dunn Marshall also is working to continue the tradition of turning employees into owners. Over the past few years, she's sold several of her restaurants to her employees.
"Part of what motivates me as a business owner is to provide opportunities to my employees to help them grow personally and professionally," she said. "I enjoy owning my own business and I'm happy to be able to share that experience with my employees."