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Marco’s Pizza franchisees lean into culture, training | Franchise Focus

Marco’s Pizza franchisees lean into culture, training | Franchise Focus
Marco’s Pizza franchisees lean into culture, training | Franchise Focus


Brandon Hudson and Damion Mason fell in love with Marco’s Pizza and have since opened seven units in Virginia.

Marco's Pizza franchisees lean into culture, trainingBrandon Hudson and Damion Mason operate seven Marco’s units in Virginia. Photo: Marco’s Pizza

It’s been a long road to Marco’s Pizza ownership for Brandon Hudson and Damion Mason. The two met as freshmen at Virginia State University in 2000. A close-knit campus, Hudson and Mason were on the step team and did community service together and joined the same fraternity.

After graduating, Hudson started a mental health company in Richmond, Virginia, and Mason’s wife was his first employee. He later hired Mason, and he and his wife served as mental health counselors.

Soon after, Mason opened his own mental health brand, and Mason and Hudson became partners. They grew their mental health company to six to seven offices across Virginia.

In 2016, the pair decided to diversify, and looked into different QSR franchises.

“At the time, we were looking at different brands and researching different brands,” Hudson said in a Zoom interview.

They both live in the same neighborhood with a Marco’s Pizza nearby, and they began to frequent the restaurant.

“I thought it was a mom and pop, like a local pizza place,” Hudson said. “Here in Richmond, it’s a small city and when you see something new, you’re like ‘Here let me go try it.’ … I was just blown away. At the time, me and my wife and my family, we were eating it probably like two or three times a week.”

Photo: Marco’s Pizza

Hudson told Mason about it, and Mason’s family began to frequent the brand as well. They learned it was a franchise and as Hudson said, they went “down a rabbit hole” and began doing research on Marco’s.

The found themselves in Toledo talking with the Marco’s team about franchising. It fit in the financial constraints that they were looking for.

“We both believed in the product,” Hudson added. “We were both eating the food all the time. Our families loved it.”

There was space in the market in Virginia for Marco’s Pizza locations, and the Marco’s team walked Hudson and Mason through franchising.

They opened their first location in Chester, Virginia in 2018, and sold their mental health companies in 2020.

“It was a lot of work,” Mason said, “but it wasn’t so much difficult. It was a tiresome process, but we enjoying going through it and bridged the challenges and learned how to open up something that we’d never done before.”

They didn’t have a food background, “but we ate the pizza,” Mason laughed. “We could learn.”

Mason said Marco’s did a good job of training, and they spent a week in Toledo at headquarters and four weeks in the restaurant getting ready to open.

“We were just like regular employees and had to learn how to make the pizza,” he said. “We had to learn the makeline and how to prep and roll the dough. So we went through an intensive four weeks training on how to run a store and how to do everything, which I would say gave us a whole new respect for the people that were working there.”

With business experience under their belts, Hudson and Mason knew how to manage employees and build a good team and establish a good culture, but they just weren’t familiar with QSRs. Managing the turnover was surprising, but they had good mentors to help.

Photo: Marco’s Pizza

Growth

Today, Hudson and Mason operate seven Marco’s units in Virginia, with two more set to open this spring. Nine are in development.

Hudson said he has four children and Mason has five, so “we’re not accustomed to just stopping at one,” he laughed.

Even with their mental health business, they were able to open an office and duplicate it over and over again — not so unlike a QSR.

“That’s the great thing about franchising,” Hudson said. “It’s kind of business in a box. … You’re in business for yourself but not by yourself. … We have the systems. We don’t have to figure out how to create the food. We don’t have to figure out what goes on the menu or price points, and that brand recognition is already there. But, we still have to put the effort in and run the business. We went into this knowing that we wanted to grow with a brand.”

Hudson said financing a second store was a little difficult, but growth was always in the cards. The challenge was making sure the first few stores were successful enough to carry additional units. The hired the right people to keep growing as well. Many of their hires were new to the job market, where as in their mental health businesses, they hired college-educated people.

They now have a human resources department that handles hiring. Many employees come from the word of mouth from current employees. “We tend to treat people fairly,” Mason said. “Employees are recommending their friends.”

“Figuring out what motivates staff at a lower wage, we quickly figured out that it’s the culture because when you’re making a certain wage, you have your choices whether you want to work at a convenience store or clothing store or other restaurant,” Hudson explained. “You have to create that ‘Why work here at Marco’s?’ Why us? That was something, to me, that we had to learn early on — how to motivate and how to create a culture to where there’s value, and it more than a paycheck. It’s fun to come to work.”

Said Hudson: “We hire for attitude and train for skill.”

Mandy Wolf Detwiler is the managing editor at Networld Media Group and the site editor for PizzaMarketplace.com and QSRweb.com. She has more than 20 years’ experience covering food, people and places.
 
An award-winning print journalist, Mandy brings more than 20 years’ experience to Networld Media Group. She has spent nearly two decades covering the pizza industry, from independent pizzerias to multi-unit chains and every size business in between. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry. She has an insatiable appetite for learning, and can tell you where to find the best slices in the country after spending 15 years traveling and eating pizza for a living. 

Written by bourbiza mohamed

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