Taking a chance pays off with his piece of the pizza franchise pie

Jeff Pickering

Three years ago, Jeff Pickering took a risk that now is paying off.

“I took about a $10,000 (per year) pay cut, and doubled my hours,” he said.

Now, the 29-year-old has partial ownership of a new Toppers Pizza store that is scheduled to open early next year at 7010 Dodge St.

You could say Pickering has been preparing for this since he was 16. He started out working at Pizza Hut and continued through his freshman year of college at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

He moved on to Kona Grill, working nearly every position at the west Omaha restaurant. Then he got a sales job at a third-party cellphone retailer before returning to the food industry to manage a local sushi restaurant.

There, he met Jon P. Crowe, who often came in for sushi and is co-owner of the Toppers Pizza franchise in Omaha and Lincoln.

In late 2011, Crowe asked Pickering to come work as an assistant manager at the first Toppers Pizza in Nebraska, in downtown Lincoln.

After Pickering worked his way up to general manager of the Omaha store near 114th Street and West Dodge Road, Crowe and his co-owner and dad, also Jon Crowe, offered Pickering partial ownership in the new Omaha store.

“From the beginning I knew there was opportunity,” Pickering said.

The new 1,500-square-foot store on Dodge Street is what Pickering hopes to be the first of many. His goal is to have ownership in multiple stores and eventually move up to an area supervisor.

“It’s just rewarding to have him still with us to this day,” the younger Crowe said, “and it was great to be able to give him a percentage ownership of this next store.”

The Crowes have a development agreement that calls for five stores by the end of 2015, said Mark Cairns, director of franchise development for Toppers Pizza. Crowe said the next store to open will be in Lincoln. Areas of interest include south Lincoln and east Lincoln, near Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Crowe said he and his dad don’t plan to stop after this development agreement, and may expand into smaller markets in Nebraska and Iowa once they fulfill the one they have.

The new Omaha store will focus mostly on carry-out and delivery, hoping to cater to college students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha with late hours.

“About 40 percent of our stores are near college districts. It lends to our brand and our culture. We’re open until 3 a.m.,” Cairns said.

Cairns said the Nebraska market mirrors Wisconsin, where Toppers is based in Whitewater. By the end of next year, Nebraska will be one of its largest markets.

At the new store, Pickering will handle the design, which will be similar to the existing Omaha store at 741 N. 114th St., and the hiring of about 30 people.

“It is refreshing to use my expensive college degree that I’m still paying for,” he said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1414, paige.yowell@owh.com

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