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June 4, 2013

Franchise Times

Robert Carlisle is used to cooking for the masses, with a background in military food service for the U.S. Army's Airborne Rangers. "I was cooking for quantity not quality. I would cook for 3,000 people at a time. You'd go into muscle Failure," he recalls.

"Now I want to try the other side of things," he says, that is, turn out high quality dishes as the first Hawaiian Franchisee for Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen. Although the numbers won't match his Army days, he believes he'll find plenty of customers.

In Hawaii with his wife since 2007, in the beverage sales business, he's been scouting for opportunities. "It's kind of lopsided," he explains about the island's population. "You have Waikiki and Honolulu, where most of the population is. But on the west side of the island, I'm in an area where it's fast developing. This side of the island is going to be like Waikiki."

His lease is almost completed. He has applied for a $500,000 Patriot Express loan, which is backed by the Small Business Administration and is expedited for military veterans. He's personally injecting $100,000 in savings into the deal, and his landlord is putting in $125,000, in the form of tenant improvements on the location. He hopes to open by late summer or fall.

"Russo's website was the best," Carlisle says, and he emphasizes that researching all the possibilities is key, as is learning everything you can about the market. Incentives for veterans are nice, he says, but more important is personal attention by the Franchisor. Russo's offers a $10,000 discount on the Franchise Fee, which is $49,000 for a Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen.

Personal phone calls and visits from President Anthony Russo sealed the deal. "Absolutely. that's one of the reasons why I kept moving forward. I had other Franchises in mind. and it would take a couple of weeks for them to get back to me." Carlisle says.

"Definitely look at the benefits and discounts and compare them with other franchises. I never had my own business, and from day one he walked me through every step," Carlisle says, referring to Russo. "He didn't do my business plan for me, but if I asked him how much will this cost, he'd tell me exactly."

"I also hired a consultant," Carlisle says. I wanted to get a second opinion. I think it's worth the money to pay for an adviser." He recommends the SBA's website as a good resource, as well as BoeFly, the matchmaking service between borrowers and lenders. BoeFly walked him through his application, and afterward the banker that had originally rejected his application made the loan.

"I walked away from a job where I was getting close to six digits a year. So it's a big risk," he says. But he believes he's ready for the battle. "Ever since I left the military I still feel like I'm in the military. I just feel like I'm going to another duty assignment. I don't let the dark side of business get me down. I just keep pushing through."

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