Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pizza Pizza!!!

All I can say is G-d Bless Michael Ilitch, the former Marine who founded Little Caesars. (Okay, to be honest, I don't really like their pizza that much. But this is the sort of thing people do when they genuinely support the troops!)

From Thursday's Louisville Courier-Journal:

Little Caesars gives unto Iraq war vets
Ky. soldier at root of franchise program
By Bill Wolfe

On July 8, 2004, Staff Sgt. Robbie Doughty's Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb near Samarra, Iraq. The blast took his legs and the Paducah resident's dreams of a 30-year military career.

"It was terrible, a very tragic thing," said Doughty, 32, who had joined the Army Reserves as a student at Lone Oak High School in Paducah in 1991. But with his hopes for a long military career gone, Doughty has turned to a new ambition -- success in the restaurant business.

After reading about Doughty in a November 2004 USA Today story, Little Caesars Pizza owner and founder Michael Ilitch offered him a franchise and new store in Paducah at no cost -- a gift valued at between $250,000 and $300,000.

The carry-out restaurant will celebrate its grand opening today.

Ilitch also has started a franchising program that offers up to $68,000 in benefits for service-disabled veterans and a $10,000 benefit to other qualified veterans.

Nearly 1,000 inquiries about the program have come in, and dozens of veterans have advanced through the screening and are moving toward owning their own franchises, according to Little Caesars.

The program grew out of Doughty's experience with Ilitch, and Doughty has been spreading the word through veterans' groups.

David Scrivano, president at Little Caesars, said Ilitch was impressed by Doughty's story, seeing "that Robby was really a go-getter and had a spirit for success in life, in general, and just a great overall positive outlook."

The road to Iraq
Doughty had volunteered for combat duty. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he wanted to leave his safe assignment as a recruiter in Bowling Green and join a combat unit, he said.

"We obviously wanted to bring the people that did this to justice, and I wanted very much to be a part of that," Doughty said.

In 2004, he was transferred to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell. Within a month, he was headed to Iraq. Two months later, after the bomb attack, he was headed home for months of rehabilitation and an uncertain future.

A new career
Ilitch offered Doughty a store, which has started serving ahead of the grand opening.

"I like going back and working with the dough and doing what we call the pizza dress, putting the toppings on the pizza. I also like to go out and greet the customers," said Doughty, who was fitted with prosthetic legs and walks without help.

He said he still has pain, but if he needs to sit, he takes a few minutes.

Doughty has a partner in the venture -- his best friend and fellow Iraq veteran Lloyd Allard of Clarksville, Tenn. After Ilitch suggested a partnership, Doughty invited Allard, who quickly agreed to the proposal.

"Yes, I probably could have lived on my pension alone," Doughty said, but "they say people that work longer, they live longer. I just think it's good and it's healthy for us to have something to do."

Helping veterans
Ilitch's Little Caesars Veterans Program was launched on Veterans Day.

For honorably discharged veterans, the plan provides a $5,000 reduction of the $20,000 franchise fee, financing benefits and a $5,000 credit on equipment. Service-disabled veterans are eligible for additional benefits, including a waiver on the franchising fee, additional financing options and a $10,000 credit on the initial equipment order. The total benefit for the disabled veterans can reach about $68,000.

To open one store, candidates need to have a net worth of $150,000 with at least $50,000 in liquid assets. Outside the program, it typically costs from $109,000 to $299,000 to build a store, according to Little Caesars.

According to Pizza Today, a trade magazine published in Louisville, Little Caesars takes a royalty of 5 percent of sales.

The veterans program is scheduled to run through next year, and it will then be evaluated, Scrivano said.

Doughty said he and Allard are already thinking about their next step in restaurant management, possibly adding a Clarksville franchise within the next year or so.