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Pizza delivers, audiobooks make some noise

Kevin Lawson's inauspicious debut in the pizza business came in 1984, when he got a job delivering Domino's Pizza for $3.35 per hour to finance his education at the Detroit College of Business. His manager noticed the dedication and effort the 19-year-old Lawson put into his work and took the young pizza-slinger under his wing, putting him through Domino's management training courses in half the standard time. Lawson eventually left college to work as an assistant manager at the store.

Opportunity arose again for Lawson in 1988 when he ran into one of his former co-workers from Domino's. Now a supervisor at Hungry Howie's Pizza, the friend told Lawson of the possibility for rapid upward mobility at Hungry Howie's. "Once I got into the company, there was opportunity for ownership," Lawson recalls.

Lawson left Domino's and eventually ended up becoming part owner of a Hungry Howie's in Detroit. But he really wanted to open a location in Ann Arbor, where he lived. In April 1998, Lawson finally bought a franchise in his desired location--albeit not without complications. "The biggest problem was that the person who had the Ann Arbor location before I did more or less ran it into the ground," Lawson explains. "It was difficult convincing the brass at Hungry Howie's that this location could be turned around."

With projected 1999 sales of $475,000, Lawson, 33, has turned it around--and then some. His new pizzeria feeds local university students--a fact he has taken full advantage of. "Kids tend to be loyal to whoever takes care of them," he says. "If you serve them properly and provide a superior product, word-of-mouth will spread."

Start-up costs for a Hungry Howie's franchise range from $85,000 to $125,000. The 390-unit company is seeking franchisees nationwide. For more information, call (800) 624-8122 or visit http://www.hungryhowies.com.

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This article was originally published in the January 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Top This.

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