Vets Offered Chance to Make Some Dough

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2007 - America's largest carry-out pizza chain is giving veterans the chance to put the leadership and teamwork skills they developed in the service to use and make a good bit of dough in the process.

Little Caesars founder Michael Ilitch started the Little Caesars Veterans Program to help provide franchise business opportunities to qualified, honorably discharged veterans.

"Our history is we've been very good at giving back to the community," Rick Moreno, the company's vice president of administration and strategic planning, said. "But this was really a situation where (Ilitch) was just doing what he's always done, and that's giving back where he can."

The program started when Ilitch read about a former Army staff sergeant's ordeal. Robbie Doughty was serving in Iraq in July 2004 when the vehicle he was traveling in hit a roadside bomb. He lost both of his legs -- one above the knee, the other below the knee.

He was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here to recover, a process that normally takes two years for his type of injury. His hometown of Paducah, Ky., welcomed him home just five short months after his arrival at the medical facility. He was walking on prosthetic legs, but was still left pondering his future, something with which Ilitch could identify. The pizza chain's founder was a minor league baseball player in the Detroit Tigers system, and he suffered a career-ending knee injury, Moreno explained.

"When he went out into the world, he found that his baseball skills really didn't work out in the real world as much," Moreno said.

Ilitch, who now owns the Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, said his experiences in the Marine Corps helped him overcome that obstacle.

"My experiences as a Marine really helped me become more focused and organized, and helped me to set some goals for my future," he said in a prepared statement. "These characteristics are a good fit for business in general, and for Little Caesars in particular.

"I also think the military teaches teamwork and leadership, which are two additional skills that are very important in growing a business," he added.

When Ilitch learned about Doughty, he reached out and set up a meeting with the veteran. "He really identified with Robbie and felt that he wanted to do more," Moreno said.

That meeting turned into an offer of a Little Caesars franchise for Doughty. For the company's management team, it produced a challenge to create a program that would help other veterans transition into civilian life or change careers.

The result, Little Caesars Veterans Program, was launched in November, around Veterans Day. The program is open to all honorably discharged veterans, and Doughty and his business partner, former Army Chief Warrant Officer Lloyd Allard, opened what Little Caesars views as the "model" store in Paducah on Feb. 1, Moreno said.

An interested veteran's first step in becoming a Little Caesars franchise owner is to contact the Center for Veterans Enterprise, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Marine For Life program. The restaurant's program partnered with the organizations to help identify qualified candidates, Moreno said.

The programs carefully screen the applicants to make sure becoming a franchisee is what the veterans want as well as to ensure they're a good fit for Little Caesars. Currently, 70 candidates have been referred to Little Caesars through the two organizations. Of those 70, four have been approved as franchise owners, and the rest have been approved to apply, Moreno said.

"Obviously we would want to set them up and make sure it's going to be successful for the stores in that area," he said. "We would definitely want to look for them to be successful, and we're going to position them as such."

The groundwork for success is laid with the benefits offered to a veteran approved to open a franchise. They amount to about $10,000, Moreno said. For disabled veterans, the benefit is even greater.

"With the disabled veterans, it's a benefit of about $68,000," Moreno said. "With that program they would get a credit of the entire franchise fee of $20,000, and they would get a $10,000 credit for equipment."

Additionally, the pizza chain offers marketing support for the store's grand opening and assistance in hiring a staff. Some of the company's vendors also are sponsoring certain portions of the program to help alleviate some of the start up costs, Moreno said.

"We're very excited about the results that we've seen so far, and the outpouring of support that we've received for the program," he said.

More information on the Little Caesars Veterans Program is available on the company's Web site.

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