ENCINITAS — Despite the recession that left Flippin’ Pizza of Encinitas struggling in 2009, Jason Bennett went out on a limb and purchased 51 percent ownership anyway.
Bennett, 30, not only turned the business around, he has raised thousands of dollars for local schools, educational foundations, athletic organizations and a food bank in the process.
This year his donations have topped $7,000 and that doesn’t include gift cards and hundreds of free pizzas he’s given away.
Bennett is the first to admit he enjoys a challenge.
As he was nearing high school graduation in 1998 he set a goal: to earn an art scholarship so that he could go to college. If that failed, his backup plan was to enlist in the Marine Corps.
“My grandmother wanted to pay for college but I said ‘no,’” he explained. “It was one of those ‘either this or that’ decisions. The Marine Corps commercial worked on me and I wanted to test myself.”
After enlisting he landed at the Marine Corps Training Depot in San Diego.
“Training was the best part for me,” he said. “I have always been physical and competitive. I could hold my own with athletics and rise to the top.”
That he did. On a training mission at Camp Pendleton he and his fellow recruits were required to mount a steep hill, while being heckled by an ornery drill sergeant. Bennett was the first to reach the top. In addition to his own 80-pound backpack and rifle, he carried the rifles of two comrades in order to lighten their loads. For this feat, the drill sergeant rewarded him a meritorious promotion from private to private first class on the spot. Subsequently, Bennett rose to become a Huey crew chief.
A month before he was discharged in February 2004 he enrolled at Palomar College and in January 2006 transferred to Cal State San Marcos as a business marketing major. In November 2007 he got a break when Pat Farley, founder of Flippin’ Pizza, sent an e-mail to the college’s marketing students advertising a paid internship. Bennett was the only one to apply.
“That’s when I learned that half the battle is just showing up,” he said. “Other students told me how lucky I was. I said, ‘You received the same e-mail and didn’t respond.’”
In December 2007 Bennett graduated. The following month, Farley made him a full-time employee. Bennett did everything in the organization from distributing door hangers throughout neighborhoods to developing an in-store marketing program and increasing the company’s visibility on the Internet.
“In October 2008 I went to Pat and said that I wanted to buy a franchise when one came up,” he said. “A week later I learned that the Encinitas store was for sale.”
Bennett took charge of the store in June 2009. His silent partner is Robbie Roberts, who is well-known in the community for his work with the Encinitas National Little League.
Bennett credits much of his success to his experience in the Marine Corps as well as his ability to recruit and retain good employees. Eighty percent have been with him more than a year.
Christian Cabarles-Stanya, 22, was hired eight months ago and was recently promoted to general manager.
“Jason has the drive and motivation to make anything seem possible,” he said. “He gave me the book, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence
People’ which opened my mind to
Bennett says he makes the book a requirement for anyone interested in leadership.
“I like it because it places importance on fundamental human factors of concern for people,” he said. “If you treat people respectfully, you earn respect.”