BJ Dumond’s first day as a pizza restaurant owner went down, literally, in flames. After that tumultuous opening, BJ survived and, today, is CEO of Simple Simon’s Pizza, a restaurant chain with 200 stores in a 10-state area. His story is one of belief, loyalty and getting up and going to work.
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BJ: My only other job’s been with Safeway stores. I was a Safeway manager in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. I dabbled in some oil and gas investments and some real estate investments on the side and, of course, we had the big bust thirty-some years ago. I really thought I was bankrupt then but now it was nothing, you know. It doesn’t matter how you feel the day.
BJ: If you’re broke, it doesn’t matter. A nickel’s a lot of money.
Dennis: That’s very true.
BJ: The zeros are just bigger, but it’s the same results. Whether it’s a dollar or a million dollars.
In fact, I’d even been in real estate. I bought a house. Built a couple of houses with a friend of mine. I had to take one of the houses. And he took a house.
Well, one day, I couldn’t afford the payment, I thought, so… I never had done this before. So I got in the car, put my best suit on - which is the only suit I had - and drove to the bank. It’s about a 25-minute drive to the bank. I had all the keys to the house and I thought, “Well, this is it. I’m going to have to turn this back in to the bank and I’m going to have to file bankruptcy because I can’t afford it.” All these things.
BJ: So, I go to the bank and I’ll never forget the loan officer. He was waiting in his office. So I go in and I said, “Craig, you know I’ve been late on my payment. You know that it’s been tough.” And he said, “We understand. We appreciate you. You’re doing well.” I said, “Well, I just can’t afford this payment anymore.” I said, “I’m going to have to give this to you so you can sell this to somebody else.”
So I laid the keys on his desk and slid them over to him. I was about to tear up. I was just devastated. And he looked at ‘em and reached over and I thought, “Well, you know…” And instead of taking them, he pushed them back to me and he said, “We don’t need to do that.” He said, “We don’t have very many people come over here and meet us like this. What would it take to keep you in this house?” I said, “Well, I don’t know.” I said, “Here’s all I can afford to pay.” He said, “Well, let’s do better. Let’s lower the interest rate and let’s let you pay interest only for a year.” I said, “Oh my goodness!”
So I’ll never forget that day. And so I went back and ended up selling the house.
Then, I still was struggling and there was a guy that opened up a Simple Simon’s Pizza store in Sapulpa, Oklahoma where I lived as a manager.
BJ: He bought a house from my father-in-law and my father-in-law carried the note and I saw on his financial statement where he was paying himself $60,000 a year. I said “Oh my goodness!” I had a pretty good job. I was making $40,000 or $50,000 a year back then. I thought that was a lot of money. This is interesting.
So I go down to… watch his store. Man, that store is busy. It was real busy. So I decided I need to get a pizza business. I had a deli and a pharmacy and I was one of their superstars in Safeway store back then. But I was just a worker bee and I was controlled by other people. I was maxed out as far as my money I felt like. So I told my wife. I said, “We need to get into the pizza business.” She said, “What are you talking about?” She’d been on the food business before.
We started going… I think there was six Simple Simon’s back then. We started going and visiting the stores. Well, one thing we noticed about the stores, they were all real busy. They were all absolutely dumps. They were horrible. Horrible facilities and the employees were marginal and the food was even worse. They were busy. They were packed out.
I said, “Becky,” I said, “I don’t know anything about the pizza business but I do know something about people. I had 90 people working for me in my store. I said, “I know how to hire people. I know how to train people.” I said, “I’ve never made a pizza before in my life but I know I can make a better pizza than they’re making just by following instructions.” Because she was hesitant we worked along there. We decided that we should do this. We still didn’t have any money.
So I come over and I meet the people in Tulsa. I think they may have had 12 stores by the time I got over there because they were… It’s a pretty, pretty big deal.
BJ: I go in. There’s three guys in one office, three desks. I introduced myself. The gentleman who owned the KFC in Sapulpa, which I knew he and his wife, they owned the Simple Simon’s in Stillwater. So I talked to them about it. They’d told me who to contact and a little bit about it, which wasn’t a lot of help but at least I thought I knew something.
So I go in and I tell them that… I tell these guys Gordon Johnston suggested these guys… “I want to get into pizza business.” He said, “What?” I said “Yeah.” So we talked for a while. They gave me some information. “So why don’t you fill this out and send it back to us then we’ll sit down and talk again.” So I go back and fill it out and turn it back in a week later. Well, it’s a financial statement.
BJ: Once I figured it out I had negative net worth. So I thought, “Man, this is not good.” So I go back in and give it to him. They look at it. They kind of rolled their eyes a little bit. They said, “Well, let’s talk about this because… how are you going to open the stores? I said, “Well, I’m going to get some money and open it.”
Then we talked about it and they assumed that I had a partner, okay? That’s what they assumed. Once I got down to the details, I didn’t have a partner. My wife is my partner and she’s on the financial statement.
So I said, “Well…” We talk and they said, “Why don’t you do this. Why don’t you go check us out, visit the stores, and then we’ll check you out.” Of course, we’d already visited most of the stores and the same thing: it was horrible food, horrible employees, marginal facilities the equipment was junky-looking but they were busy. My goodness they were busy.
I come back a week later. Meet with them and so we’re talking and I tell them what all I’ve been doing. They said, “Well, that’s good.” He said, “Well, we thought you’re bringing your partner with you today?” “Well, my partner’s at work. She’s at work and she couldn’t make it.” They said, “Well, you mean you don’t have a financial partner?” And I said, “No!” They said, “Well, how are you going to do this if we even qualify you?” I said, “Well, basically, I’m going to borrow the money.” And they all just started laughing. Because they’d probably been thrown out of the bank the week before themselves.
They said, “Well, we like your attitude and we like your experience but, boy, you still gotta have some money.” I said, “Why not, you know?” They said, “Why don’t you find you a financial partner.” I said, “Well, I’m not going to have a partner. I got to make some money in this thing.” They said, “Well, you see if you could come up a partner or money and then we’ll sit down and talk.” So I started going to visit with a couple of different banks. They all looked at me and said, “Well, we like you. You’re a good guy but you don’t qualify for a loan.”
So, I got ahold of this one banker, Jack Louis, who sent me to see a guy named John Troupe who did SBA and VA loans. He said, “You need to go see John. See if he could help you.”
So I go visit with John. I’m a Native American. He said, “Well, I’ve got just the program for you.” And I had some money in my retirement account, but you couldn’t pull that out and use it as collateral.
BJ: Long story short, I ended up getting a BIA grant for my equity portion, $20,000. And an SBA loan to parlay in to open my first store. They gave me two choices on my stores: one was in West Tulsa, one was in Prattville. So I’m sitting there in their offices and, “Well, it looks to me like which one’s the biggest risk?” They said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Which one has the most potential to fail and the most potential to be the best store?” They said, “Well, by far this store in Prattville,” because the rent is going to be extremely high, it’s a new facility, on and on and on. I said “Well, that’s the one I want.” They looked at me like, “Are you crazy? This other deal is a lot less.” I said, “No,” I said, “We’re good. That’s the one I want.”
So I bought the franchise. We ended up going through training which was a joke and we got ready to open our store.
Well, the first day we opened, we thought it was… we had about $900. My wife and I, we were elated. It was easy. They told us to hire 7 people and we’d hired 15. Just thinking well, I got to be real busy because this is high risk. I knew if I hired 15 or 16 people, I’d be lucky if maybe 50% of them showed up. They all showed up. They all showed up the first day.
So that was Monday. The second day was our big, big night: our buffet night. We had less buffet at daytime and less at night. Back then our lunch buffet was $2.99, all you can eat pizza and salad. Well, we opened up for lunch and we had a pretty good lunch. Right across the street, right across the street from us, there was a diner called Little Joe’s Restaurant. They were always busy. Always busy. It was across the street in a strip center. It wasn’t across the street, it was across a culvert; you could walk over. You couldn’t drive over but you could…
And our drive-through, you entered off the highway, went around behind the building – the drive-through was on the right-hand side. It was like a horseshoe, you know, around the drive-through. We did a really good lunch and I’m feeling pretty good.
Well, Gordon, the original founder of Simple Simon’s, he calls me and says, “Hey!” He said, “I’m going to send a couple of my guys out – or my agent one guy – to come by to help you this evening.” I said, “Gordon, I don’t need any help. This is a cakewalk. Absolutely cakewalk. Plus, your guys don’t know nothing. They didn’t help us before. They never showed up for training. Maybe come by and have pizza or something but they never showed us anything.” I said, “We’ve learned this on our own. We don’t need them.” He said, “Well, I’m going to try and get them to come out.” I said, “Don’t send them out for now. Let me see what I can do for the day.” He said, “Okay. We’ll see.”
So we’re hopping around there. About 6 o’clock that evening, our buffet’s going. You got to remember, our buffet was… We only had three pizzas on a warmer back then. That’s how archaic they were.
BJ: Well, I look up – they’d sold us this old junky equipment. Some old-fashioned deck ovens they’d probably found at a salvage yard and sold them to us at a higher price. You had to open the doors and move them around and all sorts of stuff. I could get seven pizzas in a deck oven. I could load all four ovens up with 28 pizzas. That’s a lot big time.
About 6 o’clock, man, we’re busy and I’ve got the pizzas in the oven. I go back. I remember… This is as vivid to me as the day happened. This all happens in about two minutes. So, I was standing there I was, “Well, I’ve got these pizzas in the oven. Everything’s under control. I’m going to do what I’m good at. I’m going to go out and talk to these customers.”
So I go out, wander around the store, and then the very in front of the store is a table of 6, three tables of six. I call it the nose of the store. The center table was this Pentecostal group and on the end was - I found out later their names that day - were Brother and Sister Tabor. I’ll never forget their names.
So, I’m just talking to them and I’m being nice to them. And the lady, she looks up at me she said, “Mr. Pizza Guy, I think your… that’s your wife…” - I already told them who my wife was - “Your wife is wanting to get your attention.” I said, “Oh, she’s fine,” I said, “I got this all marked down.”
So we’re talking just a bit and she says, “Mr. Pizza Guy, I think you will need to turn around and see what she wants.” Well, I turned around and looked at how hard she’s waving at me, yelling at me real loud in the store. I look and there’s smoke coming out the kitchen.
Dennis: Oh my!
BJ: Well, I remembered I had 28 pizzas in those ovens and I’d forgotten about them.
So, I run back there. I run by my wife. She said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I don’t know.” So I opened the door to the oven, the first oven. Well, when you open those doors, you may not realize that pepperoni all it is, is flammable fuel. It’s just full of grease. Well, I opened the door, well that air hits that oven; blows in there. Those pepperonis catch on fire.
Dennis: Oh my word!
BJ: Catch on fire! So you got to realize, alright, behind the back of the store is where the drive-through people backed up to make the horseshoe. On the other side of that drive was a gravel lot that they hadn’t built out yet. So when I… the kitchen, you walked out the kitchen to the right and you turn right to go to the backdoor, well, you could see the dining room. You could see who’s… you can see what’s going on. Well, I grabbed this - I said, “Gene” - this is the kid that we hired. Gene was his name. “Gene, grab a pair of pizza pliers and do what I do.”
I stacked one pizza on top of another pizza on a pan, picked it up, ran out, turned right, went out the backdoor, crossed the drive-through in front of the cars, and just threw them on the gravel lot. Flame on. I mean flame on. So he’s right behind me. Well, there’s 28, okay, so we had to do that seven times each.
Dennis: Oh my word.
BJ: I come back in. Becky’s standing up at the front register just grinning – standing there just like a board – just grinning looking at everybody and they were all looking at her. And so I walk up beside her and she says, “What are you going to do?” I said, “What do you mean what am I going to do?” She said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Well, I put some pizzas in the oven. I already put them in the oven. So that will be 30 minutes.” She said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m not going to do anything.” She said, “You’re going to do something.” We’re talking out the side of our mouths; we’re grinning. “You’ve got to do something.”
I wave my hands and I yell at everybody, “Look, everyone…” - and there’s 84 people in this store - “Look, everyone, if you don’t realize this by now, I just burnt everybody’s pizza. So here’s what I’d like for you to do. I like for you to come up and let us give you money back and you go somewhere else. Or you can come up and have more salad, get drinks, and we’ll eventually have some pizza and you can eat later. Or you can…” I said, “But, really, the best thing to do…” I said, “It’s obvious we don’t know what we’re doing. Why don’t you just come up, we’ll give your money back, and you guys can go.” Well, Becky’s leaning over and she said, “We don’t have enough money.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “We did a bunch of paid-outs before. We don’t have enough money to refund everybody’s money.” And we’d had a lot of call-ins, too.
Dennis: Oh, right.
BJ: I said, “We’ll do it till we run out.”
We stand there and it seems like an eternity. No one moved.
BJ: No one moved. So I said, “Well, okay.” So I said, “I’ll be back.
I go up and I get Julie who is our little girl running the drive-through. Julie and Gene. I said, “Gene, Julie, come with me.” We ran the backdoor and I said, “Okay, Julie, you go to the front of the drive-through and tell everyone to come back in an hour, hour-and-a-half and we’ll have the pizza ready. Gene, you go to the front of the line or out by the road and you start telling them. I’ll start right here at the drive-through and work my way to Grove because that was the big street. There was probably 40-50 cars in line. Seemed like a thousand. All of a sudden, the cars just start peeling off, you know. Looked like, I don’t know what it looks like.
So they’re leaving. So we get everybody told while I run back in. Well, Becky’s still standing right up by that cash register, just grinning. And I walk in and no one had moved. No one. I said, “What’s going on?” She said - we’re talking out of the side of our mouths - I said, “What’s going on?” She said, “They haven’t moved; they’re just looking at me.” I said, “Why are you smiling?” She said, “What do you want me to do?” She was ready to kill me. Well, I said…
By that time, this little couple from the Tabor’s table, they’d sat on the very front of the store, on table 6, a couple. They come up to the cash register. They start walking to me and I said, “Well, Becky, here it goes. Get ready, we’re fixing to be bankrupt.” So they come up to the store - they come up to cash register - and I said, “Becky, why don’t you get the money back.” She said, “Oh, no, no. We don’t want our money back.” I said, “What do you mean?” “Well, we got a meeting down at church here in about 30 minutes” or no, “We got a meeting at the church in five minutes.” By then it was 6:30, 6:40. “If you’ll keep the buffet open, we’ll be back… we should be done by 8 o’clock and just come back by.”
I said, “You don’t want to do that. What makes you think we won’t burn your next batch of pizzas?” And they let out a chuckle and said, “Oh, we’re not worried about that.” I said, “Are you serious?” “Oh yes. So we’ll back 8 o’clock or we’ll probably back about 8, maybe 8:15.” I said, “Are you sure?” She said “Absolutely!” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “No.” I said, “You sure?” She said, “Yeah.” So they left.
So I’m standing next to Becky. I said, “Well, there are other people. They don’t know what they said. They’re going to be coming up here in a minute.” No one moved. No one moved. They didn’t budge. I’m standing there and she said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m not going to do anything.”
I go back in the kitchen. By then, pizzas were – we started taking pizzas out. We put pizzas on the buffet, what we could, and then our orders to go were all messed up because it’d been total chaos. We had no idea who ordered what or… We had no idea.
BJ: They were all mixed up. It was just a mess.
So I told Julie. I said, “Julie, in about 10 minutes, people are going to start coming up.” I said “What we’re going to do - and we’re cooking pizzas as fast as we can - we’re going to put pizzas in a box. What we don’t put on the buffet.” I said, “If someone comes up, order two pizzas, or a pizza, just grab one, or two, whatever they ordered, give it tell to them and tell them no charge. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and you may not even get the right product.”
Okay, so, that starts. Well, you got to remember, back then Pizza Hut charged like $20 for a pizza.
Dennis: Right. Oh yeah, expensive.
BJ: People weren’t used to $5.95 supreme or $4.99 pizza. Well, she’d give them the pizza and she’d say, “No charge.” Well, most people would just throw money in the window because she wouldn’t take it; they’d just throw it in.
BJ: We made more money by that than if we’d been ringing them up for real. They’d just throw the money in.
Anyway, the buffet started. We got people out of there. Sure enough, about 8pm, those people showed back up and had dinner with us.
We got through the night and that night, after we closed and everything, our two oldest children were with us. They were back asleep on the flour sacks back in the back room, because it was late… and there was a table of two out front. We cleaned up and sent all of the employees home. Well, Becky and I, we were sitting at the table just kind of reminiscing on the day and with tears in our eyes I said, “You know, Becky” I said, “I’m so sorry that this has happened” I said, “Because I really don’t think the customers will forgive us. We’re going to be the laughing stock of everybody in this community and it’s going to be hopeless. We’re going to be bankrupt the 2nd or 3rd day.”
Dennis: Oh my goodness.
BJ: Because we don’t have enough money to make it another day.
With tears in our eyes she looked at me. I’ll never forget what she said. She said, “You’re probably right. However, when we started this business, we trusted God to guide us and help us.” That’s our only hope at the end of the day. I said, “You’re right there, but I don’t think God is going to bless us because we’re stupid or I’m stupid.” She said, “Well, we just got to trust.”
So tears in our eyes, we go home. It’s a 15-minute drive to our house. We go home, we had a sleepless night. We get home about midnight. We never did really sleep well at all. We get up the next morning, we go to the store. Well, we get there and we get everything open. She said, “What are we going to do?” I said, “We’re going to open. We’re going to see what happens. That’s all we can do.”
So we get everything ready. She’s up there by the cash register. I got my apron on. I’m out front sweeping the sidewalk just like the old time storekeeper from the ‘50s. Wearing the broom out, because it’s clean. 11 o’clock we open up. At 11 o’clock I look over to Little Joe’s restaurant, they’re packed out. They’re busy at 11 o’clock! I said, “Well, you know, we’ll be okay.”
I go back in. I go in, Becky says, “What’s going on?” I said, “Nothing!” She said, “Looks like Joe’s is pretty busy.” I said, “Yeah, yeah they’re busy.” We kept watching Joe’s. Man, they were busy. About 11:15, no one in our store. No one. 11:25, not a soul in our store. Not a soul other than four employees.
Dennis: Sounds like panic setting in.
BJ: I had to go out and get Becky’s car and move it up front to act like there’s somebody there.
Dennis: There you go.
BJ: Put it right at the front door. Well, 11:30, no one there.
A little after 11:30, there’s four cars driving up on the parking lot. I said, “Hey, people coming out.” They get out of the car - they’re parking on the edge of the lot - they get out of the car. I said, “Becky, we got some people out here.” They all walk over to Little Joe’s.
Dennis: Oh no.
BJ: All of them. All four cars. I think there was nine people. They used our parking lot and walked across because he was so busy! So I’m devastated. 11:35 that Wednesday morning, I’m standing out there by the door watching all these people over at Joe’s and a little maroon S-10 truck comes driving up, kind of slow, driving up. Parks right up front. Lo and behold, it was Brother and Sister Tabor - the people that had told me that the pizza was on fire.
BJ: They drive up. They get out, they come up to me - I’m by the door - and I said, “What are you people doing here? Didn’t you get enough of this last night?” They said, “Oh no! We invited our brother and sister and some more people. We’re going to have about 10 people here in a little while. Oh no, we came back. We like your pizza.” I said, “You’re out of your mind.” I said, “Why would you come back after that fiasco last night?” And I’ll never forget, Brother Tabor looked at me, he said, “Son,” he said - he was an older person - he said, “Son, you told us the truth. You didn’t try to push the blame on anything. You just right told us the truth.” He said, “And we respect you for that.”
Sure enough, they came in. They came in and ate. And about 10 minutes later, other people started showing up and then we had a very, very busy day. That store took off and it was the highest performing store in the company and it spring boarded us to open our second store and then we were fortunate enough to get an option to buy six company stores like two or three years later and with that we had an option to purchase the parent company and we exercised that. It’s just a miracle that we survived.
BJ: One thing… Oh yeah, it really is. Unfortunately, it is believable. It is the truth. I wish I could have made all that up. It was just a story.
Dennis: No, it’s a great story. Yeah.
BJ: Here’s the key. The key to me - and I tell people when I tell this story because I get emotional when I tell it because it was real. It was real. It was a disaster.
I tell people this and I tell this to people to this day. They asked me, “Well, what makes you successful?” I said, “It’s not magic. It’s not magical. It’s luck, some is luck, some is timing. Timing…” You can call it luck, or whatever. Timing is important. Honesty is important.” I said, “The key to my success was the day after disaster, we got up and went to work. We got up and went to work. So when everything else is going wrong and you think there’s no hope. If you just get up and go to work, eventually some good things will happen. They don’t always work out that way but it’s worked out for me. Just get up and go to work.
Dennis: That’s right.
BJ: Looking back on those two days, those three days and I’ve had a lot worse things happen to me since that day. Both personally, business… faced some more obstacles, financial, you name it. Many, many more. Huge.
The key that’s driven me this last 33 years is I remember that morning, on Wednesday morning, when I got up and even though I didn’t the have desire to, I didn’t want to. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, I was devastated. But I did what I was supposed to do. I got up and we went to work and that’s the key. I got up and went to work.
Since that day when I’ve faced all these other obstacles and I thought it was tough then… I’ve seen a lot tougher times than that. It wasn’t at the moment because in my life’s experience that was the worse devastation I’d had from a business standpoint.
Dennis: That was a huge day. You had everything on the line, right, with that story.
Dennis: And here it is. It’s a disaster out the door and yet you survived that.
BJ: The key is… when I look back now, when I face many obstacles in life or in business, I remember that. I get up and go to work. It’s helped me overcome a lot of challenges that were bigger than that $125,000 note or whatever it was. It’s been millions, millions later but, I’m telling you, the key is: get up and go to work. Eventually some good things will happen.
Dennis: That’s great.
BJ: That’s how I got in the pizza business.
Dennis: That’s a great story, BJ. Wow!
BJ: Unfortunately, every bit of it is true. I wish I could fabricate that but it’s all absolute unbelievable.
Dennis: I think that’s just a great story as it is. That’s lovely. That’s lovely.
BJ: Well, I appreciate it, Dennis. It’s because we’ve been very fortunate to be associated with some very good people and help us build our brand and it’s been a fun ride, I would say. I think that thing thought me … I was a very loyal person, okay? That third day, that Wednesday morning, I learned a lot about loyalty. I’ve tried to pass that on to our reps over the years because, just like with our major vendors, it’s a partnership. I’m extremely loyal to my manufacturers; they give us excellent pricing, they give us great product, they treat us like they do, believe it or not, Pizza Hut, Domino’s… All the big boys.
Because of our loyalty, over the years, it has solidified that relationship. They’re very fair. We keep them honest because we hold them accountable. We keep them honest on pricing and stuff - we bid things out. I’m telling you, that life lesson about the loyalty of that group taught me to be loyal to our vendors, our manufacturers, and our people. Very good lesson.
Dennis: That’s a great lesson. You bet.
BJ: It’s a fun business. We’re very blessed, very fortunate to be able to do it.
Dennis: That’s great. BJ, that’s great. Thank you so much.
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