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Antonio Swad, president of Pizza Patron, Inc., was raised in Columbus, Ohio. His dad drove a truck and his mom was a waitress. One of his first memories was counting and rolling the change his mother brought home from her tips. Like many others, he shoveled snow and delivered papers for extra money. He disliked high school and took an accelerated course that allowed him to graduate early. He got his first job at a Ponderosa Steak House restaurant on his 15th birthday, and there he stayed until he became the general manager.
Swad stayed in the restaurant business, gaining experience in every area. He worked as a full service waiter, bartender, cook, and DJ. Working with other college students make him question where he was going and what he was doing with his life, but a bank robber’s chance comment became an epiphany for Swad. When captured at a local fast-food restaurant after robbing a bank, the police asked why he had gone there. His answer was simple, “I was hungry.” In that answer, Swad found a fundamental truth, no matter what people’s priorities, they are always hungry, and Swad realized that the restaurant business was an important industry and that he was comfortable with the idea of making it his life’s work.
Swad moved to and fell in love with Dallas, TX, working as a bartender at a high volume night club, until an opportunity to run a hotel and restaurant in Watertown, New York came along. One winter in Watertown convinced him that Texas was the place to be, but the experience of making pizzas for delivery as a side business for the restaurant gave him the idea he eventually developed into a successful business. Living at the hotel rent-free allowed him to save $13,000 in seed money to get started.
After moving back to the Dallas area, Swad bought used equipment and rented a store. He did everything himself, from processing the raw flour into dough, to the front end work of interacting with customers. He soon saw that his customer base was mostly Hispanic, so he hired bi-lingual employees and began to cater specifically to their needs. He changed the name of the business to Pizza Patron (“Pizza Boss” in Spanish) and expanded to a second location with the highest concentration of Hispanics in the area. In April 2006, Pizza Patron will celebrate its 20th anniversary and the company, which now sells franchises, has over 50 stores.<>.Not content with just running the pizza business, Swad developed another restaurant business in 1994. He wanted to build a business that could become nationally known, so he created a fast-food restaurant based upon the chicken wing. Trading upon the popularity of “Buffalo Wings” as a side dish, Swad decided to expand the concept of wings as an entrée in an adult setting. He developed six different sauces including garlic parmesan and lemon pepper as well as the traditional vinegar and cayenne pepper based hot sauces and a few side dishes which would be available only in the evening and would be served along with alcohol. He developed an aviation themed décor and called the restaurant “Wing Stop”. Swad began franchising the concept in 1996 and built it up to 100 stores in 16 states before selling it in 2003.
The Small Business Professors' Words of Wisdom
As we talk with entrepreneurs nationwide, we find that exposure to an industry at an early age often provides a foundation to those who are destined to become entrepreneurs. We also find that there are detours along the way. Antonio Swad was always open to opportunities and the most memorable of these taught him a valuable lesson. If he bought vending machines which sold panty hose, the company would help place them and he would make a dollar for every pair sold, or so the sales pitch went. The problem was that the company’s promise to help place the machines never materialized and he could never find a place that would let him install the machines. He keeps 3 of the machines as a lesson to himself about looking deep into every aspect of an opportunity. He knows that passion for an idea can blind you, when what is really needed is to take a step back and determine if you can accept the worst possible outcome. If the risk is unacceptable, then you must move on to another idea. This approach has contributed to the enormous success Swad enjoys.
- Case History: Pizza Patron, Inc. www.pizzapatron.com
- Entrepreneur’s Strategy: Forecast costs and makes decisions based on worst case scenarios. If you can succeed in hard times, you can make it in the long run.
- Could This Work For Me? Being realistic and objective about what can happen can make the difference between success and failure in a new business venture.
In April 2006, Pizza Patron will celebrate its 20th anniversary and the company, which now sells franchises, has over 50 stores.