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Major Dough

A former baseball player decided to take a swing at making gourmet pizzas.

This story appears in the February 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Mike Harms grew up collecting baseball cards; admired his dad, an Oakland A's baseball player; and was drafted by the Florida Marlins right out of college. Playing baseball professionally was something Harms had always dreamed about. However, less than four years later, his dream ended abruptly when he was released from the team.

Crushed, Harms, 30, devoted his time to refocusing and saving money. Then he and his wife, Erin, 31, decided to purchase a franchise. Extensive research helped them choose Z Pizza, a gourmet pizza restaurant offering menu items ranging from Thai to Mexican-style varieties. The size of the restaurant-800 to 1,400 square feet-appealed to them, as did the cement floors and large brick oven. But the food was the clincher in their decision to bring the concept to Reno, Nevada. "I'd never had a brick- oven-cooked pizza or [such] a variety of toppings," says Harms.

By January 2003, Harms was tossing again, but this time with pizza dough. He worked 56- to 70-hour weeks during the first five months and checked in during his time off. After establishing a solid foundation, he finally learned to leave the everyday operations of the business to his 11 employees. "Letting go and trusting the system that Z Pizza has put into effect was the hardest part," he says. Doing so allowed Harms to open a Sparks, Nevada, location in November 2003, and he plans to open a third location in 2004. Meanwhile, the Reno store took off with first-year sales exceeding $400,000.

Scoring big, Harms is realizing that life has more in store for him than baseball. "I'm very happy," he says. "It's been more than I could dream of."

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