Sister Act

March 19, 2002 | by James Bickers

Pizza has been very good to Jack Keegan. His Minneapolis restaurant, Jakeeno's Pizza, has provided his wife and three daughters a respectable lifestyle for 27 years.

But it's been hard on him, too, heaping up ample hours, headaches and heartaches. In 1999, as Keegan pondered retirement just a few years away, those memories convinced him that Jakeeno's wasn't the kind of legacy he wanted to pass on to his children.

Until two of his daughters convinced him otherwise.

Amy, Patty and Jack Keegan.

On Jan. 1, Amy and Patty Keegan officially completed a two-year transition of their pop's pizza place into their ownership, and became second-generation owners of the business he founded in 1975. Though Keegan was proud they wanted to follow in his footsteps, he knew they were choosing a hard row to hoe.

"It's a tough business on families," said Keegan, 65. "I spent a good many years not being able to do things with my children because I was tied down to a small family business. I had to make the mortgage payments. I couldn't afford to pay someone else so I could go to their soccer or hockey games.

"Having three girls, I never thought about a succession thing happening. So when they approached me ... I was surprised and somewhat pleased."

The daughters said they couldn't swallow the idea of closing Jakeeno's, much less consider someone else running it.

"We could not imagine the place not being around," said Patty Keegan, 31. "It's been a part of our whole lives, and we have these three little nephews that we couldn't imagine it not being there for them. And with all the hard work our parents had put into it, closing the doors or letting someone else take over was not an option."

"I grew up here," said Amy Keegan, 29, "I learned to write my name here. There are a lot of good memories here."

"Amy was 2 years old when we opened that restaurant. She used to come down there with me for lunch every day," Jack recalled. "And they worked for me periodically during those years. So they saw how I operated."

A Neighborhood Staple

Long before "relationship marketing" became a catch phrase, Jack was doing it at Jakeeno's, and building a reputation for personal service. Twenty years ago, he delivered a free dinner to a couple who had moved into the neighborhood with a new baby. That "welcome to the neighborhood," gift, Amy added, made such an impact on the wife, that she still comes to the restaurant.

"We have an incredible customer base," Amy said. "We're on second, third generations of some families. We have people that walk in and say, 'Man, the place looks exactly the same, and I haven't been here in 15 years.' It's nice that people appreciate that."

Prior to taking over the family business, Amy was a youth worker at a social services agency, and Patty was a nanny. Today, each works alternate days, reporting for duty every other day to oversee nightly dinner operations. All bookkeeping and marketing work is handled from home.

Jakeeno's Pizza and Pasta offers family dining, carry-out and delivery. The sisters say they haven't made radical changes, but they've begun to do things their way, such as closing for lunch in order to start catering. To the menu they've added desserts, chicken wings and vegetarian items. Jakeeno's original recipes, however, remain intact.

Business at Jakeeno's has grown steadily since the sisters began phasing in as owners two years ago. Delivery and takeout comprises 75 percent of the business, with dine-in making up the rest. Sales last year were almost $600,000 which Jack said was nearly 8 percent more than in the previous year.

Family Dynamics

Leading the family business has been fun for the women, but to no one's surprise, it's been no bed of roses. According to Amy, the toughest challenge they've faced has been helping long-term employees adjust to their leadership. "A couple of them worked for my father for 20 years. They saw us grow up. So to make that transition (from friend to boss) was difficult."

"We could not imagine the place not being around. It's been a part of our whole lives."

Patty Keegan
Co-owner, Jakeeno's Pizza

Amy also said other staff rearrangements were needed to balance out the crew of 14. "At the end of his career, my dad was paying people to be here for him, so we cut back on some hours. I think we've lost two people in the transition."

Thankfully for them, the shift from male to female ownership hasn't presented too many challenges.

"When people do call and ask for the owner, and I say, 'That's me,' they do sound surprised," Patty said. "But I personally have not had that much trouble."

One incident, though, does stand out.

"Last week I had a gentleman come in from a small business lobbying group, wanting to solicit a membership from us," Amy began. "It was me and two of my male staff standing up front, and this guy made zero eye contact with me -- he asked my two male staffers if the owner was in. I said, 'Well, that would be me.' " Not surprisingly, she declined his offer.

According to Patty, the sisters also have had to work in earnest to build new relationships with vendors who were used to dealing with their father.

"The hard part is not that we're women, it's that we're 'Jack's daughters,' " she said. "A lot of time, they've known us just as 'the kids.' We've had some of these vendors forever. It's been a challenge getting them to understand that our dad is out of the business and yes, they're dealing with us."

Having the final say for a quarter century on everything at Jakeeno's has been a tough habit for Jack to break. But he's confident his daughters are making good business decisions on their own, plus, he discusses the business with them routinely. That they've had their own careers prior to this, he believes, will bring a fresh and positive perspective to the restaurant.

"I'm hands-on in conversation; I do go down there quite often and do a little putzing around," said Jack. "I always thought I'd stay there until they carried me out, so I really didn't make any plans to do anything else. So it's nice to still have a key, so to speak."

Topics: Independent Operation

James Bickers
James Bickers is the former senior editor of Retail Customer Experience, and also manages webinars for Networld Media Group. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist and innovative content strategist, with publication credits in national, international and regional publications. wwwView James Bickers's profile on LinkedIn

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