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How a Young Immigrant Rapidly Rose in the Pizza Business He didn't know what pizza was when he was growing up in Bangladesh, but after delivering pizzas in high school, Ag Mahmud now owns four Papa John's restaurants.

By Jason Daley

This story appears in the March 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

David Yellen

Ag Mahmud is 29 and owns four Papa John's restaurants in New York and Connecticut. But he didn't always know what pizza was. He grew up in a small village in Bangladesh, where fast food wasn't exactly common fare. In 2002, when he was 16, his family moved to America. "I didn't really have any goals at the time," he says. "I was just focusing on school and getting a part-time job."

That first job was as a delivery driver for Domino's. "I realized I could make a career out of this," he remembers. "I saw how the franchisee was making a lot of money and was able to grow his own business. I made owning a pizza franchise my goal and aimed to get to that level." To do that, he worked his way to manager and studied the business. Then, in 2013, he applied to become a Papa John's franchisee. He was accepted, and using his savings and loans from family, he opened his first unit. Now he runs his restaurants as a family business: Each of his three brothers is in charge of one location, and his dad works as a delivery driver.

You're very young and don't have a ton of business experience. Why did Papa John's let you buy a franchise?
They looked at my résumé and saw that I hadn't worked anywhere but pizza places. When they interviewed me, they just wanted to see my knowledge about the pizza world. I talked to them about my experience and what I'd like to do to reach out to the local community and churches. I think they were impressed. Every one of my brothers started out as a pizza delivery driver. So we all knew operations, how to run the business and make pizzas. Papa John's taught us how to manage our businesses as owners, how to go over P&Ls, things like that, so it was an easy transition.

Is it tough working with your family?
I really don't find anything different between working with family members and my employees. You know, you spend more time with the people you work with than you do with your family. They really are my second family. When I was manager at Domino's, I bought everyone a cake on their birthday, and I still do it. We all have to get along and treat each other as family. That's something I've always believed.

Why is community involvement important to you?
I'm not interested in just selling pizza parties to schools and things like that. I always donate pizzas to school events, to local churches, to colleges. I'm active with them. The return comes when those people go home and think of us. They might not know my name, but they know me as the Papa John's pizza guy, and that I always try to help them out.

Your family invested a lot in you. Were they ever worried you wouldn't succeed?
They were not afraid to spend their money; they knew that running a pizza franchise was something I was passionate about. They said that if I put my mind into this and if it was what I wanted to do, they'd help me out. It does make me proud, and my parents and everyone are proud of me. Now they can say that we own a food store in America. 

Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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