Opening a new business two days after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 wasn't ideal, but Charlie Clark didn't let a little adversarial timing stop the grand opening of his Mr. Jim's Pizza franchise in Sherman – and the restaurant hasn't stopped growing since, with single- to double-digit increases in growth each year and the expansion to a bigger location in 2012.
He laughs as he talks about the opening, revealing an attitude of flexibility, problem-solving and easy determination.
"Succeed or fail, you have to try and take a chance," Clark says about starting a business.
Clark was working in sales for Coca-Cola when his desire to become an entrepreneur took root. His impetus wasn't building a business empire, however. It was solving a problem.
In 2004, he was having a date night at home with his wife Jeannie and waiting for the pizza they had ordered to be delivered. When the pizza showed up late and with the wrong toppings, Clark asked for the order to be corrected. At midnight, four hours later, the right pizza arrived at their door.
"I told my wife, there has to be a better way," Clark says.
He'd never owned a business and the only pizza experience he had was working at Cici's Pizza in college, but he knew he could do better than the service he and his wife had received. He approached Landmark Bank President Randy Hensarling and Vice President Allen McDonald about supporting his business idea with a loan.
"They told me I had to write a business plan," Clark says. "So I wrote a 120-page plan over the next three months."
He submitted the plan to Landmark in Nov. 2004. With no word by mid-January, he resigned himself to accepting that the loan request must have been denied.
"A week later, I got a call from Randy," says Clark. "He said, 'Turn to page 79, paragraph three – now explain this.' He was still reading it."
The loan was approved, and the funding came through in April. When they opened in August, Landmark Bank was the first pizza order they took.
"They've been there for the grand opening, the ribbon-cutting," Clark says. "I feel like I wouldn't have anything I have today – my business, my future – without Landmark's support."
Clark speaks with appreciation about the community support, personal attention and customer care that Landmark shows. "They know my family. They know my kids," Clark says. "They may not have seen my daughters in a while, but they still know their names when we come in the bank. I can't preach Landmark's praises enough."
With Landmark's help, Clark started his Mr. Jim's Pizza restaurant with the support of his wife and four employees. Today, they employ 11 and have nearly triple the weekly gross sales compared to sales during their first year. The business is a family affair: Clark's wife Jeannie works full-time as a supervisor for Kelly Services, but also puts in time at the restaurant. Patrons also find the Clarks' two daughters, Jessica and Taylor, working at Mr. Jim's.
"The fun part is you get to create something," he says about starting a business. "My dad used to tell me when I was a kid: Be part of the solution, or you are part of the problem."
Today, he's enjoying educating his own kids about running a business, and he says his 20-year-old daughter Taylor is interested in getting into the restaurant business. He talks with pride about the opportunities she'll have, starting out 10 years earlier in the business than he did.
The lessons he'll pass down aren't all financial and strategic. For Clark, one of the most significant lessons he's found in his entrepreneurial career is simple: the best rewards are intrinsic.
"Someone comes in who might be having a bad day and orders a pizza. You smile at them – they smile back – you might have made their day," he says.
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