When he was a teenager, as happens with teens throughout the country, Jason Shifflett went looking for a job.
That first part-time job for the Harding Academy student was at a Domino’s Pizza, the first national pizza company to roll out dough in Olive Branch, where he lived.
“One day when my mother was getting her hair cut, I went to the Domino’s Pizza store and peeked in and saw that there were a lot of people that were younger that were working in the store, and I decided to apply.”
Too young to drive at the time, he began by answering phones and making pizzas, “doing everything inside the store that you could,” he said. “Really just fell in love with the business.”
Right out of high school in 1994, Shifflett moved from Olive Branch to Oxford, Miss., for college at the University of Mississippi and a course set for pre-med with intentions of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. He stayed on with his boss, Diane Barrentine, a franchisee who also owned a store in the college town, as well as in Southaven and Senatobia.
“It was a natural fit that I could put myself through school working at Domino’s while studying to go to med school at some point.”
Barrentine would eventually need a manager in her Senatobia location, an hour from school. To make it more challenging, the store was underperforming at the time, unable to turn a profit, which is what a manager’s bonus is tied to. To make it worth his while, Shifflett approached Barrentine with an offer.
“I said, ‘Let’s make a deal: You pay me a fair salary … but give me 100 percent of the profits for the first year.’”
Faced with the prospects of selling or closing the store, she accepted. He managed to turn the store around while still a full-time biology student at Ole Miss, and brought in $1,800 profit in the first four weeks, a trend which continued.
He was hooked. He became manager of the Olive Branch location his junior year and, realizing where his talents and heart lay, he left his surgical plans behind to switch to a degree in business, graduating in 1998.
“I really fell in love with the opportunity to make money and be an entrepreneur.”
“I really fell in love with the opportunity to make money and be an entrepreneur with Domino’s Pizza because I saw firsthand how you did that.”
Two months after his graduation, Barrentine sold him his first store, the Olive Branch location where he’d begun his career as a teenager answering phones.
“As a 16-year-old he worked hard and smart, and has always remained relentless,” Barrentine said. “Positively the model of success. His life has embodied how strong the franchise system of Domino's Pizza was, is, and will hopefully always be.”
A year later, Shifflett built a store in Hernando.
“For the next five or six years or so, we built about a store a year and got us to about eight stores in and around 2006,” he said.
Many of the surrounding stores in the area were owned by Domino’s corporate at the time, and in 2006, he was able to purchase those stores, boosting his portfolio to 20.
“We had all the stores in and around Memphis – up to Atoka, all the way south to Tupelo – so everything pretty much in the Memphis, Mid-South area outside of a couple of stores in DeSoto County that the original franchisee I worked with still held on to.”
Domino’s stores number 4,932 domestic and 5,508 international. Shifflett Enterprises, run by Shifflett and his wife, Kelly, now owns 31 stores, including all in Memphis, with 11 in Nashville, and two under construction. Their 10-year plan is for 100 stores.
It’s an impressive streak and an equally impressive goal. Says Barrentine: “I could not be more happy, proud and enthused by Jason’s success in the Domino's Pizza system. He 100 percent embodies what an extremely hard-working, intelligent and thoughtful person can do when given a task.”
Shifflett employs about 800 and is actively looking for another 200 people across the Mid-South, with the concentration being in Memphis. Some of those employees may end up becoming owners themselves one day. Shifflett says 95 percent of franchisees began with the company as pizza makers and drivers, just as he did.
“I just love the brand, love everything about Domino’s Pizza. It’s been a really exciting ride, we’ve been very fortunate and surrounded by a lot of great people in the franchise system that are very similar to me,” he said. “It’s an awesome opportunity to realize the American dream, you know; I didn’t win the lottery, I didn’t inherit any money, everything I have has been self-made through hard work, operating with integrity and trying to do things the right way.”