Franchising gave one family the opportunity to combine their passion for the restaurant business with their love for central Illinois.
A little luck. A lot of work. That’s what Harold “Bud” Jenkins and Janet Jenkins believe are the keys to their success as the owners of LucWork Enterprises, Inc., a franchisee of Taco Bell Corporation in central Illinois. Founded in December 1982, the company’s thirty years of success are a testament to the opportunities for change and progress in the Peoria area.
“Peoria was a location that had great potential for us,” says Bud, president of LucWork Enterprises. “We knew that if we did it right, we could be the only Taco Bell franchisees in central Illinois.” “Everyone else wanted Chicago,” adds Janet. “Nobody knew Peoria was here. But we knew. We were lucky.”
While Janet’s parents were early franchisees of Taco Bell in New Mexico, Bud says the restaurant industry “had always intrigued me. We were both special education teachers from Bloomington, Illinois,” he says. “Jan grew up in the restaurant business. Then her mother asked me to open a store, and I did and enjoyed it.”
In 1981, the couple moved to Gallup, New Mexico, and shortly thereafter received a letter from Taco Bell informing them the corporation was selling a number of its company stores to franchisees.
The following December, Bud and Janet bought a store in Pekin and another on Sterling Avenue in Peoria, becoming second-generation Taco Bell franchisees.
Bud and Janet divorced in 2011 after 32 years of marriage, but decided to keep the business intact. “We both felt that our employees were—and still are—part of our family,” says Janet. “We easily made the decision to keep the family together.”
Bud and Janet’s 30-year-old son, Jon, joined LucWork Enterprises just over a year ago, and it’s possible their daughter, Jamie, 28, may join in the future. “We decided early on we wanted our children to have their own success first,” says Bud. “We didn’t want them to always wonder: ‘Could I have made it on my own?’ We didn’t want to force our kids into anything right away.”
Jon says he always loved central Illinois and desired to return after moving away. “After college, I worked at Buffalo Wild Wings in Chicago and worked my way up to manager. After that, I worked as manager of P.F. Changs in Chicago. I received an MBA up at DePaul, and then came back to Peoria and joined my parents in the business.”
While Jon serves as part-owner and district supervisor, Janet’s three college degrees help her manage the various corporate aspects of the business. “I have a degree in secretarial administration, which helped me establish our office and oversee office personnel,” she says. “I also have a paralegal degree, which helps when I work with human resources. And my teaching degree has given me the knowledge I need to supervise area coaches and restaurant managers. We have a chief operating officer and a vice president of operations, with whom I work as well.”
As president of LucWork Enterprises, Bud oversees business expansion, from the planning to the building and opening, as well as all marketing responsibilities. “I work closely with our lenders and leaders in the city. I also work with our national franchisee association and purchasing co-op as both past national president and chairman of the board.”
Enjoying the Day-to-Day
Bud says in terms of making day-to-day decisions, running a business with family members “has its pros and cons. You try not to bring too much of your work home, which is sometimes difficult to do.”
Running the business proved advantageous when her children were young, Janet remembers. “One of the things we found was that one of us could always be at home with our children. One of us—if not both—was always there for school events, so the business allowed for some flexibility. If I was out at one of the stores, Bud could be at home with the kids.”
Working alongside his son in the business is also a plus, Bud says. “I like having Jon come along to business meetings. It’s nice being able to spend time together.”
Jon says the most challenging aspect of being a part of a family business is learning the boundaries. “Knowing where the motherfather relationship ends and where the boss relationship begins is something I’m still working on. Sometimes I find myself arguing my point to my mother, not my boss. It’s been an adjustment. I think I’m still learning how to communicate.”
Despite differences of opinion, the family functions as a team, not only for themselves but for their employees. “We’re family, but we’re also family-friendly,” Janet says. “We have our controller and five women in our office. Two of them are new mothers. So, we’re very flexible with their time and very accommodating to families.”
Building Up Success
Over the past three decades, maintaining success at LucWork Enterprises has been both challenging and rewarding. The franchisee functions by delegating responsibility for decision-making. “Whatever the issue may be, the person responsible for overseeing the issue always makes the final call,” says Janet.
Bud says the early years were “a tremendous amount of work,” but efforts paid off, allowing the franchisee to grow and expand. “Just like anyone who has been in business for many years, Jan and I asked: ‘Are we going to continue to grow?’ And we made the decision ourselves: to grow, expand and continue, especially with Jon joining the business.”
Teamwork has also been a contributing factor to business expansion. “Our team members have been with us for 10, 15 and 20 years or more,” says Bud. “The longevity of our employees says a great deal about the quality of our business and the success we’ve experienced over the years. When we first came here in 1982, we were the ‘young pups.’ Now we are the oldest continuous major franchise company in central Illinois.”
LucWork Enterprises owns 14 franchises in Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and Peoria, and will build another three properties in the next three years. “Our goal is to have over 20,” says Bud.
Taking It to the Next Level
Janet says working in the restaurant business has been and always will be about the people. “Our customers, our employees—their needs and their satisfaction are our top priority. We strive to provide our customers with the best service and the best products possible. And as someone that has grown up in the restaurant business, there’s a great deal of pride in being fortunate enough to be able to supervise and have a say in how things are carried out.”
As supervisors, Janet and Bud recognize the sustaining role employees play in the business and place high value on training and mentoring. “Having the opportunity to mentor crew members and watch them progress onto managerial and supervisory positions is its own reward,” says Janet.
Taco Bell, she says, is “a very difficult fast food concept” and a very demanding job. Balancing customer service with food production requires special skill, and not everyone is up to the task. “In order to be in management, you have to enjoy working with people. Taco Bell managers deal with hundreds of thousands of customers a year. To really enjoy them and live through the hardships of running a business, it takes a good, strong personality, which is something you can’t teach.”
Despite the challenges, the skills and concepts that the crew members learn serve them everywhere they go, even if they change professions. “We want our employees to take the next steps. Training, training, training has been very important to us,” says Bud.
Training not only assists employee progress on the job, but it also helps them see things differently and evolve in the workplace. “Being able to see young girls that came to us as shy and soft-spoken and are now talking to people everyday at the register is very fulfilling on our part,” says Janet.
“It’s amazing how many people come back to Jan and say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for sticking to the policies. Thank you for making a difference,’” says Bud. “And if we see that we’ve made an impact in our employees’ lives—whether or not they remain in the restaurant business—then we’ve done our job.”
Doing Things Right
What distinguishes LucWork Enterprises from other franchisees in central Illinois? “It all comes down to dedication. Dedication to our employees. Dedication to our customers. Dedication to the Taco Bell brand,” says Bud.
Innovation, he says, helps a business thrive. “Taco Bell has been around since 1962. To survive for 50 years requires a willingness to be constantly changing and constantly flexible. When Jan first got into the restaurant business as a teenager, Taco Bell had five products. Now, they have a whole line of products and 6,000 stores nationwide.” After 30 years, both Bud and Janet say it’s still a joy and an excitement to be in the business. “When you do things right, the rest will come,” says Bud, adding that in business, the desire to help people is more important than a desire to become wealthy.
“If you go into a business looking just for riches, you’ll never achieve that. You have to have a passion for helping people get what they want out of life. That’s what makes a good leader. That’s what helps a company survive.” iBi