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KFC Veteran Keeping Mountain Mike’s In Fast-Growth Mode

Jim Metevier expected to be a psychologist.

Nearly three decades ago, during his medical studies, Metevier worked in an in-patient facility in Florida with troubled adolescents.

The nearly four-year experience “broke my heart,” he said.

A pivot to the restaurant industry came soon afterward, setting in works a career that included over 20 years at Yum Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM), the parent company of Irvine’s Taco Bell.

While at Yum Brands, he moved up the ranks, from a general manager to chief operating officer of the $39 billion-valued firm’s KFC division.

In 2018, he joined Newport Beach’s Mountain Mike’s Pizza, owned by local restaurant chain investors and operators Chris Britt and Ed St. Geme, as its COO.

Around that time, the pizza chain counted fewer than 200 stores and reported revenue in the range of $156 million. It then counted an average sales per store of about $800,000.
Last year, Mountain Mike’s reported revenue approaching $300 million—up over 80% over the past five years—at its 281-store chain, making it Orange County’s 12th-largest locally based restaurant chain by systemwide sales.

Sales now run closer to $1.1 million per store annually, on average.

All the chain’s stores are currently franchise-owned.

With more growth on the menu—Mountain Mike’s is expected to surpass the 300-store count later this year—comes a new role for Metevier; he’s the restaurant firm’s new chief executive, taking over the role previously shared by Britt and St. Geme.

Franchise Focus

Britt and St. Geme first took a controlling stake in Mountain Mike’s in 2017, and the duo—who also own and run the locally based Juice It Up smoothie chain—became 100% owners of the business in 2022 by buying out their previous financial partner, Levine Leichtman Capital Partners.

“We’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting, now we’re capable of growing unit count,” St. Geme told the Business Journal about the deal.

In Metevier’s first five years at Mountain Mike’s, the chain added almost 100 new restaurants to its portfolio.

Another 100 are in the pipeline. The new CEO is targeting the opening of 30 stores this year, as well as signing 50 new restaurants deals by the end of 2024.

Mountain Mike’s will also enter two new states, Washington and Wisconsin, this year.

Targeted markets include states such as Florida, Tennessee and Minnesota.

Currently, the company operates in eight states. It has over 260 locations in California, by far its largest market.

“The one number I focus on is 100%, [to have] 100% successful openings for our franchisees,” Metevier said.

Pizza Partners

Metevier credits Mountain Mike’s franchisees as the key to the chain’s current growth rate.
The executive said there was the absence of a franchise-recruiting function when he joined, and said prior growth was due to existing franchisees and their recommendations.

In prior years, most of the chain’s growth came from existing franchisees. Now, newer partners are driving much of the expansion, according to Metevier.

The pizzeria has 140 franchisees in the organization now.

In California, it can cost upward of $400,000 to open a store, according to state franchising filings.

“It always comes back to making sure the franchisees are engaged in their local communities to promote business, do fundraisers, and bringing the little leagues to the restaurants,” Metevier said.

Mountain Mike’s tends to open in grocery-anchored centers with high visibility and aims to focus on community demographics of families and sports fans.

The chain currently partners with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Angels.

Future Plans

In the next three to five years, Metevier said Mountain Mike’s could reach 400 or more restaurant locations, and be in 15-plus states.

“But we would much rather build a foundation for a long-term dynasty,” he added.

“We will be a national brand, it’s a matter of timing. We’re going to do it in a thoughtful way with the right partners.”

Fried Chicken, Biscuits & Pizza

Jim Metevier counts over 30 years in the restaurant industry, most of it spent with Yum Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM) and its KFC division.

After deciding to get his MBA at business school, Metevier connected with KFC recruiters at a job fair and was hired as an assistant manager at a restaurant in Orlando in 1992.

He would go on to work the next 22 years for Yum Brands, as he joined the corporate office and moved his way up through KFC operations working in finance, marketing and development strategy.

Metevier eventually became the chief operating officer of all KFC’s U.S. operations.

“I had done almost everything I could do at Yum without going international,” Metevier told the Business Journal. “It made sense to go out and be president of a company where I have the ability to set the strategy.”

Metevier then joined a family-owned breakfast concept based in Graham, N.C. called Biscuitville Fresh Southern, where he served as president for a year. That chain, with restaurants in Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina, counts 80 locations.

That’s when Metevier got the recruiting call from Newport Beach’s Mountain Mike’s Pizza, which he hadn’t heard of before.

Once Metevier met with owners Chris Britt and Ed St. Geme, who knew “how to walk in the shoes of a franchisee,” and tried the pizza, he was set.

“They gave me full opportunity to set the strategy and build the team,” Metevier said.

The corporate team has grown from three to 30 people since Metevier joined. Mountain Mike’s total system sales over the past five years have grown 82% with 2023 revenue of $297 million.

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