still expanding popular chain
Five minutes with Mike and Mary Jane Foster and you'd think they had
pizza sauce in their blood.
The couple have created a sizeable empire on it 20 Hometown
Pizza restaurants and counting.
by Don Ward
Jane and Mike Foster have taken a hands-on approach
to growing their
chain from one to 20
stores in just 17 years.
Mike started working in pizza joints as early as high
school. Today, he still likes to get in the kitchen every once in awhile
and cook up a hot one.
But mostly, he's too busy hiring employees and planning his next store
opening. In November, the couple will cut the ribbons on their 21st
store this one in Corydon, Ind. He hopes to continue adding a
new store every couple of years and eventually reach 40 to 50 stores
before he's through.
But he says he's not competing against the big delivery chains. "It's
a different business. We do
have delivery service for the convenience of our customers, but this
is a restaurant. We want our customers to come in, relax and feel at
For the Fosters, it all started in the fall of 1982. They rented a small
storefront space, just a few doors down from the La Grange restaurant's
current location, equipped a kitchen and small dining area and began
making pizza. From the beginning, loyal customers bought pizza, and
within two years, Hometown Pizza expanded into a larger space next door.
The restaurant was successful enough for Mary Jane to stay home with
their daughter, Mandi, who was born just a month after opening the original
restaurant. Mary Jane is in charge of decorating the dining rooms of
the restaurants and has been known to wait tables, hostess and even
wash dishes over the years. She decorates the dining rooms in an eclectic
"homey" style using unique wallpaper designs and antique memorabilia.
"It has been a very nice blending of family life and business,"
The business did well from the beginning, and in 1986 a second Hometown
Pizza opened in Carrollton, Ky. Today, you can find stores from Falmouth
to Hodgenville, and even in southern Indiana.
Mike confesses that it was difficult to let go of some of the day to
day duties involved in running a restaurant. " I used to check
every pizza that came out of the oven. With more than one store, I can't
do that anymore. Now I focus on hiring good people and helping them
run a quality store." He occasionally gets in the kitchen and tries
different ingredients in the sauce, but he says his customers can always
tell when he has changed something. "The customers are great, they
let me know if they like what I have done or not."
The Fosters have always been involved in the community and support many
programs for children. Donna Sabo, manager of the La Grange restaurant,
has worked at Hometown Pizza for 12 years. She issues coupons to area
schools to use as rewards for children to receive a free individual
pizza. Coupons are also provided for the Summer Reading Program sponsored
Oldham County Public Library. Each year, Hometown Pizza sponsors a breakfast
with Santa in conjunction with the La Grange Elementary PTA to benefit
the school. A banquet is also held each year for fifth-graders who complete
the D.A.R.E. program, which teaches ways to resist peer pressure to
Sabo is also the training manager of all Hometown Pizza stores.
"All the managers are encouraged to become a part of their communities
and to get to know their customers," she says.
Mary Jane added, "One of the neat things about having a business
in a small town is that we have been here long enough now that the little
kids who came in with their parents are now our employees."
Sabo agreed, saying, "Many times we hire these kids as sophomores
and they stay with us. We watch them grow and mature, and it is sad
to let them leave for college because they have
become like family."
Asked about the success of Hometown Pizza, Sabo said, "This is
a great place to work. The Fosters' care about their employees, they
care about their customers and they care about
the quality of the product they are selling."
Back to November 1999