In their own words: Jim Fox

Owner: Fox’s Pizza Den

Back story: Fox, 58, worked at a local pizza shop in 1959 when he was 12 and got the bug. He wrote high school term papers on the pizza business and, borrowing $500 dollars from a friend (and $50 from the bar next door just so he’d have cash in the register to make change), opened his first shop in 1971. He’s turned a profit every year since. He now oversees 252 stores in 30 states, the bulk of them franchised. His son, Jim Jr., runs five stores and is vice president of marketing.

Opening day. That was March 7, 1971. We sold out everything by 10 o’clock opening night. Opened in my hometown of Pitcairn [Pennsylvania]. I knew everybody in that town. The first store was only 350 square feet. Only five people could stand in the waiting area. We opened at 3. There was a continuous line until 10. It was the greatest.

Back in the 1970s in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, we would just do up little individual flyers with coupons. No matter what flyer we’d run, this competitor would put a sign up, “We’ll honor all Fox’s coupons.” Pissed me off. Kid who owned the store lived in that town. I told him to get 250 flyers for a large two-topping pizza for 49 cents and to pass them out to their friends and family. Told everybody to hit on Friday between 4 and 6. He and I and his wife went in before 4, got a pitcher of beer and just watched. They honored the coupons but they never did it again.

I think when I started I was so naive. I thought you shake somebody’s hand, give them your word they gave you theirs, you could take that to the bank. That’s deteriorated over the years. I’ve had a lot of disappointments there. It never really cost me a lot of money. But people you really thought you could trust, when it comes down to the nitty gritty, they’ll stick it to you.

I’ve never thought of myself as a failure in business. In my personal life, many times.

I still like getting up in the morning and going into work. I hate to see 5 o’clock roll around.

Never get into partnerships. People think, if I go into a partnership, my liability is only 50 grand instead of 100 grand. But you’re also only getting 50 percent of the profits. Then you have one guy who only wants to work 20 hours a week. Then you start stealing off each other. I’ve been in two really bad ones. You couldn’t give me a million dollars to get into another one.

If I had to get out of this business I would miss the people. I’m a people person. Nothing in the world I like better than being behind the counter in a pizza shop and bullshitting with people who come in.

That’s the hardest thing, motivating these young people. I’ve got some of the best damn employees in our stores, but boy it’s hard to get them. You go through 10 bad ones to get to one good one. The problem gets worse every year. The tattoos, the pierced ears, tongues, lips. Kids could give two shits today about their appearance.

My son calls me a dinosaur in this business. We don’t have computers, I still do everything in a black book. I don’t have a cell phone. It’s just the way I’ve done things my whole life.The best restaurant person I know is my son.

I’ve always told people if I live long enough to retire, it would be living in a condo in Las Vegas. That would be as close to heaven as you get.

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