Mart's Pizza Pro. Photo by Ashley Yeaman. Copyright 2012.
Texas Business reports: Ten years ago, Bill Rasco of Hewitt, Texas decided to take a huge risk. He had been in education for twenty years, but was ready for a change. He withdrew his teaching retirement funds and used them as a down payment to own and operate a Pizza Pro franchise in tiny Mart, Texas.
“I took a chance. If the business failed, I wouldn’t be getting a teacher retirement check. The money would just be gone,” Rasco said.
But Pizza Pro has managed to survive in Mart, a community of 2,500 near Waco, unlike other area businesses.
“We’ve seen several places come and go right here,” Rasco said. “[The] restaurant across the street – we’ve seen five or six owners there. We used to have a chicken place. There was a bakery next to us that closed. Folks come and go .”
Bill and his wife, Ging Rasco, knew they wanted to open a business from the start, and investigated several options before deciding on a restaurant.
They liked the franchise aspect of Pizza Pro, a pizza company that began in Jackson, Arkansas in 1985. Today, there are more than 500 Pizza Pros operating in the south.
“The advantage of any franchise [is] that you have a recognized brand, and you’re given some support as far as setting up the business,” Bill said. “That’s not going to be right for everybody, but for us it’s OK. It’s worked out well.”
The Rascos get their products directly from the company and pay royalties each week for their sales.
“I’ve been asked, well, why belong to a franchise and pay somebody royalties? Why not just do it independently?,” Bill said. “Well, Pizza Pro operates kind of like a co-op. We get better prices buying the product wholesale and belonging to the group, and in fact the difference in cost between the wholesale price that we pay as a franchisee compared to if we just bought it as an independent – that more than covers our royalty payments. That gives us a better deal.”
Ging said another benefit of working with a franchise is a consistent product.
“The franchise has everything – all the ingredients – it’s all the same. It’s not today salty, tomorrow, not salty. It’s all the same. Everything is there. If you do not have it, you have all these companies that will help you supply it,” she said.
The franchise also helped the Rascos settle on a location. In Mart, Pizza Pro does not compete with other pizza restaurants. It also draws in people from small towns nearby, such as Riesel and Axtell. Bill credits location, among other factors, to the business’s ability to help them “make a decent living.” Still, owning a restaurant does come with its struggles.
With four sons, the Rascos have had to learn to balance both a family and a business.
“Take care of the kids, take them to orchestra, come back to the business,” Ging said. “I can manage myself. I just make sure that everything is OK. I have to go to my boys. You have to run the store. You have to do it. The boys have never been in daycare. I take care of them. We sacrifice, and sometimes it’s kind of hard.”
Their oldest son, Robert Rasco, was in elementary school when the business opened, and remembers being “very interested” in it.
“How many third graders could say their parents owned a pizza restaurant? It was very out of the ordinary,” Robert said.
But growing was not always easy. “Very few kids have their parents not be able to show up at dinner at night, because they’ll be [working]. It’s a very different style of childhood,” Robert said. “Your parents don’t work a job. They own a job. It’s a huge difference. Your life is at [the restaurant]. After school, you’re in the back office, playing video games .”
Robert has worked at Pizza Pro since his junior year of high school. He hopes to one day run a business of his own, and said that the knowledge he has gained growing up in a family business is beneficial. “It’s stuff you’ll never learn at school. It’s just stuff you learn here at the store,” he said.
Many people are interested in opening their own businesses, but do not realized the work involved, Bill added. “This is pretty hard work. You’re on your feet for most of the day. We put in long hours, and the restaurant business is hard work,” Bill said. “When it gets real busy, you have to move fast. You have to stay organized. You’re putting on a face for the public .”
But by owning a business, Bill said, he can run the restaurant as he sees fit and is his own boss. Ultimately, however, the customers are king. “You’ve got to please them so they’ll keep coming back,” Bill said.
This not only means having a good product, but also an orderly restaurant, Ging said. “Everything should be fast, clean – good presentation. The presentation will make up the mind of the customer,” Ging said.
The Rascos also believe in the importance of being active in the community. “We have sponsored softball teams in the past, “Bill said. “We have a peewee football team that we sponsored. And people are always coming around wanting you to sponsor something, or give them a gift certificate. You know, can you throw in a pizza for a raffle we’re doing, or something like that. I don’t mind doing that ,”
Owning a business has been rewarding for the Rascos, but Bill said that it takes dedication to see a profit. “You take a risk. You take a chance and you go for it, and if you’re not successful and you give up – that’s when you fail, when you give up. You’ve just got to keep trying,” Bill said.
“[It] makes a big difference – staying with it through good times and bad times, and not getting discouraged .”