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Yes, you DO want fries with that

Fast food service jobs can lead to surprising - and profitable - places

Food service franchises like Jimmy John’s enjoy a mutually beneficial partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord personnel. Photo credit: Adam Teske

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For many of us, our first big break into the workforce was in a menial food service job. Our parents and our bosses all told us the same thing - "This is a great opportunity" - a sentence we all secretly suspected ended with, "to quit this place and find a better job."

We tend to view food service jobs as an unpleasant means to an end, not as a lucrative or even viable career path. But as entrepreneurs Ryan Wildy and Adam Teske can attest, that just isn't so.

Fraternity brothers Wildy and Teske started as delivery drivers for Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches while attending the University of Illinois at Urbana. While the majority of food service careers stop at that level, the two worked their way up to the corporate offices before opening their own chain of Jimmy John's franchises in the South Sound, including one at Joint Base Lewis-McChord early last year.

"We kind of fell in love with it," Teske said. "(Once) we set the goal of opening our own store, we started looking at where we wanted to live and ended up in the Northwest. I love the mountains, (Ryan) loves the water, so the Pacific Northwest was just a perfect fit."

The base franchise proved to be a smart business decision, offering a consistent, renewing and expanding consumer base for the comparatively healthy food Wildy and Teske offer.

"The store does okay. I'll say that," Teske chuckled. "It's a really busy store."

Busy, but not without a good deal of rivalry.

In addition to like-minded rivals like Subway and Charley's, JBLM hosts a large assortment of well-known burger, taco and pizza peddlers like McDonald's, Burger King, Qdoba, Domino's and many more as well as fried chicken chain Popeye's, which rules all of JBLM without opposition from a certain colonel.

Despite the stiff competition, there's plenty of business to go around. According to a report by Franchise Business Review, the average yearly profits for a restaurant franchisee can range from just below $50,000 to more than $250,000. Granted, those are huge margins, but even the lower side of success affords a comfortable living.

You don't have to own a restaurant to earn a living in food service, either. Managers can earn an average of $45,000 a year. Even the jobs most of us would write off as merely stepping stones can be surprisingly profitable.

"Even our delivery drivers make really good money," Teske said. "They're making $11 an hour in addition to all of their tips. It's not unusual for one of our delivery drivers to make $20-$25 an hour. We also pay them a mileage rate to offset wear and tear on their car and fuel costs."

Keep in mind, Teske and Wildy started out as delivery drivers for the very restaurant chain for which they now own four franchises. Those jobs led to a level of professional success Teske will only elaborate on with coy chuckles.

That thankless, low-paying fast food job may seem like a dead end, but the journey of 1,000 miles may begin with a single sandwich.

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