Mike Simmonds just couldn't stay away from the restaurant business.
After having sold the last of his 90 restaurants earlier this year, Simmonds has brought his son Shawn, 26, on board to open six new ones. The Simmondses plan locations in Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs for the new-to-Nebraska Pie Five Pizza Co., a fast-casual pizza chain.
Mike Simmonds, who opened his first Burger King in Fremont, Neb., in 1976, grew Simmonds Restaurant Management under three brands — Burger King, Taco John's and Jimmy John's — that produced annual revenue of $125 million before he started unwinding the business.
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Simmonds, who has battled cancer for several years, sold his Burger King and Taco John's restaurants beginning in 2008. He sold his 12 Jimmy John's restaurants earlier this year, then focused on his investments and another franchise he owns in Phoenix for a security patrol company, Signal 88, which is headquartered in Omaha.
“I didn't want to leave a complicated mess for my family if things didn't work out for me, healthwise,” he said.
However, Simmonds said he feels good, and Shawn was interested in working with his dad. “He's been anxious to do something, so I'm helping him really get going in this business of his own,” he said.
Simmonds, 65, said working with people is what has kept him in the restaurant business for so long.
“When you walk into a restaurant as an owner or as a manager ... there's energy,” he said. “I'm an extrovert and I like working around people.”
Simmonds was inducted into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame in 2009. He is also known for his political activities, including being a top financial supporter of the unsuccessful attempt to recall Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle in 2011 and his opposition over the years to Omaha's restaurant tax.
Simmonds has worked with groups such as Sacred Heart School, Ak-Sar-Ben, Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs, the Omaha Children's Museum, Junior Achievement, the Salvation Army, the Methodist Hospital Foundation and Creighton Prep. He serves on the board of Bellevue University. He and his wife, Lin, launched the Help Beat Cancer for Kids program in 2004 to raise funds for cancer research.
Simmonds said he and his son are now scouting sites for the first two Pie Five locations, which will be in Omaha and be very “high-profile and visible.”
The quest for a new restaurant concept to bring to Omaha began about a year ago, Simmonds said. He didn't want to deal with the headaches of a full-service restaurant but wasn't interested in fast food, either.
“I wanted something different this time,” he said.
So he and Shawn settled on Pie Five Pizza, a build-your-own pizza chain where customers can choose from different options for crust, sauce, toppings and cheese for their pizza, which is prepared by an employee in about five minutes. The first two Omaha stores are expected to open in the next six months, probably within weeks of each other, Simmonds said.
“There's really nobody doing a high-quality, lunchtime pizza right now,” he said.
Simmonds said a fast-casual concept was also appealing to him and Shawn because it's the fastest-growing segment of the restaurant sector today. “It's growing at the expense of traditional fast food as well as full service.”
This also will also be Simmonds' first experience dealing with alcoholic beverages: The chain serves beer and wine by the individual bottle, he said.
The first Pie Five opened in Fort Worth, Texas, in June 2011, and the company began actively franchising last November, with its first franchised store in the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay, Utah, Pie Five chief development officer and senior vice president Madison Jobe said. More locations are expected in Kansas City, Mo.; Wichita, Kan.; and Tulsa, Okla., among others. The company has 11 stores open, mostly in Texas, and several more coming soon.
“The Midwest is becoming very solid for us,” Jobe said.
Simmonds said he thinks the Omaha area could support four or more of the restaurants, and two are expected in Lincoln.
“We can always go back for more,” Simmonds said, adding that the current franchise contract obligates him to build six restaurants within a three-year period.
Shawn Simmonds, the youngest of Mike Simmonds' four children, attended Creighton Prep and graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he studied international management, business leadership and real estate. Since then, he has worked for brother Kevin at his point-of-sales software company, which started as an offshoot of Simmonds Restaurant Management, and for his dad on real estate investments and the Signal 88 franchise in Phoenix.
Shawn Simmonds said he has a fascination with the restaurant industry because of his dad's success. He will manage the hiring process and help oversee development of new stores.
“I am not trying to be him, as those are very large shoes to fill, but see it as something noble to strive for,” Shawn Simmonds said.
Mike Simmonds' hope is that one day Shawn will be running Simmonds Restaurant Management.
“My goal here is that Shawn will take on more and more responsibility and someday, when I'm fully retired, it'll be his game to play,” he said.