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Jeff Litman: pizza's Domino effect.

LITTLE DID JEFF LITMAN KNOW that 30 years ago when he helped his brother-in-law open Domino's first stores in the Minneapolis area, he was on the road to starting his own pizza empire--which today includes 22 stores and 500 employees in the Denver area.

The pioneer of pizza delivery in the metro area sees annual sales of $16 million, and, through his initiative, signed Domino's as the title sponsor of the first Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado Half-Marathon in Cherry Creek State Park.

"Domino's nationally has a connection to Make-A-Wish," said Litman, president of Jo-Berly Enterprises Inc.--named for his daughters, Jodi, 28, and Kimberly, 30--an area franchisee for Domino's. "So this was another way for us to be involved in the community."

With a degree from the University of Minnesota, the native of Duluth spent some time in banking, then borrowed money to go into the pizza business from his perplexed parents. It was 1974 when the infant Domino's had just 45 stores and sold only two sizes of pizza and Coca Cola Classic.

"The sauce got in my blood," said Litman. "One day sitting behind a desk making loan applications I decided to become an owner-operator and opened my own store in New Hope, Minn."

By 1978, he was headed to Denver to open the first Domino's store in a bustling University of Denver neighborhood, bringing the concept of pizza delivery to the Mile High City.

"We scraped together everything we had to get that store open by the fall when the students came back to the university," recalls Litman of the time when franchises cost $10,000 compared with $225,000 today. "We were an instant hit."

He opened 10 stores in the 1980s just before the oil crisis hit and competition in the pizza-delivery business came to town.

"The late '80s were a tough time," said Litman. "But that's one thing about being in the pizza business--you know you'll never starve."

By 2000, expansion was in sight again and he grew to 22 stores.

"I'll get out there and ride with drivers or if we need an extra car on the road, I'll make deliveries," said Litman. "It's important to get a feel for what the customers are saying."

And it's just as important to follow the Denver Broncos, the weather, and the AFC championship game.

"If the Broncos are winning, sales are up 10 percent; and while most people think Super Bowl Sunday is our biggest day, it's actually the AFC championship game," said Litman. "People have Super Bowl parties and like to prepare their own food."

Litman serves on a number of local boards, including the Anti-Defamation League, and he sends pizzas to several charities, including Samaritan House, the West Metro Fire Department--it was fighting fires last summer--and after-prom parties.

"We want the kids off the streets after proms so we always give to those parties," said Litman. "I've been fortunate to learn the business from the grass roots, which really gives you an understanding of what people want."

PERSONAL FILE

Jo-Berly Enterprises Inc. is a family affair with Litman's wife, Marilyn, heading up human resources, management and training. "We cannot be successful unless we retain and recruit a management team," said Litman, whose own favorite pizza is extra cheese, mushroom and sausage.
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Title Annotation:executive edge
Author:Bronikowski, Lynn
Publication:ColoradoBiz
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:548
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