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Executives encourage Fort Smith student entrepreneurs

Two-month simulation had teams creating and planning original restaurants

Published: May 30, 2017   
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Eighth-graders Katherine Kaelin (left) and Savannah Burks designed and planned Waterwheel Restaurant for Jeff Hines’ technology class May 12 at Trinity Junior High in Fort Smith.

FORT SMITH — Eighth and ninth-graders in the Trinity Junior High School technology class recently paired classroom work in a restaurant simulation with real-world examples.

The students spent two months developing a business plan for opening a restaurant. To cap off their studies they were visited by local restaurant franchisees to tell the students about fast food chains in the region.

K-MAC executive Sam Fiori, CEO and owner, shared about his humble beginnings.

“In 1972, when I was 16, I began working as a cook at Kentucky Fried Chicken, one of a group of three. I was promoted to chef manager, assistant manager, district manager and VP, and then I became an owner of my first restaurant.”

K-MAC Enterprises today operates 300 Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Golden Corral restaurants in nine states. Joining him at Trinity were Tina Reagan, K-MAC’s president and COO, and Dennis Casey, director of operations.

Reagan had a similar story, starting in the chain at 17 and working her way up to her present position. Neither Fiori nor Reagan went to college, but they urged students not to make the same choice.

“Me, I didn’t go to college,” Fiori said, “but both my kids graduated from the University of Arkansas. A lot of what goes on in business is just hard work, good work ethics and loving what you do.”

Fiori’s son, 36, and daughter, 30, are graduates of Trinity Junior High School, and, as an alumni parent, he remains committed to its success. He is a new grandparent and looks forward to his grandson attending Trinity in the future. The Fiori Charitable Trust contributed a grant to Trinity’s technology department.

Casey said he was particularly impressed with the students’ projections of start-up and operating costs.

“That’s something we keep track of every day,” he said.

Technology teacher Jeff Hines, a recently retired information technology executive, structured the course to give students a hands-on experience.

“We spent the first half of the semester learning applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets,” he said, “and the past two months on this simulation. Each student team chose a concept, theme, cuisine and location. I asked them to describe the concept and what made it unique. They used technology to research locations and develop HR policies, design menus and restaurant layouts and make financial projections of operating and start-up costs.”

The restaurants the students designed included fast food, ethnic cuisine, destination restaurants and sports bars.

“Are you all just this creative?” Reagan asked, and Hines assured her they were.

In the question and answer session that followed the K-MAC executives’ presentation, Fiori stressed the importance of choosing the right location.

“Fast food is an impulse purchase,” he said. “You should place your restaurant on a busy street with ‘generators’ such as Home Depots or shopping centers nearby.”

The restaurant industry uses much more technology than it did when Fiori began his business. K-MAC is opening 14 new restaurants in 2017 and chose its locations using tech-savvy real estate consultants. Every item K-MAC sells is tracked, and at the end of each day restaurants determine what percentage of revenues are spent on food. Computers are used in employee training, and employees are recruited and screened through

All agreed that finding and keeping good employees is vital to a restaurant’s success. K-MAC makes a practice of promoting employees from within.

“If you hire the right people and invest in their future, they will move up and become really proud of where they work,” Reagan said.

When asked how he built his business, Fiori said, “A lot of times it’s all about having a good business plan and a unique concept, but the biggest thing of all is providing an outstanding experience. Our job is to make sure our stores are as clean as they can be, our food is as fresh as it can be, and that it’s served fast all the time.”

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