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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Doing The Right Thing Pays Off


Pete John is the owner of three Dillas Primo Quesadillas locations.

Doors close and opportunities knock for Pete John

Everyone has a story.

Periodically, 318 Forum’s Tony Taglavore takes to lunch a local person — someone well-known, influential or successful, and asks, “What’s Your Story?”

In the world of chicken fingers, especially Raising Cane’s chicken fingers, Shreveport’s Pete John was “The Big Kahuna.”

Literally. That’s the name of the award Cane’s gives each year to its top general manager. In 2009, Pete was the recipient. He and his wife, Tara, received a trip to Hawaii.

“We bought a bigger house. We built a swimming pool. We had kids at this point. (Tara, a teacher) was home being a mom. Life was good. Everything was great. I was as happy as I could be.”

That is, until May 22, 2017. After 12 years as the face of Cane’s in our area, ascending to the role of a multiunit managing partner, Pete’s world fell apart in one conversation.

“I was working at the Youree Drive store. I had a trainee with me. They called me to the downtown Hilton and fired me.”

The Big Kahuna was unceremoniously and unexpectedly toppled.

Blindsided. Shattered.

Pete paused for what seemed like a painfully long time.

“What was the technical reason?

I think it was insubordination, maybe, because I didn’t run a shift when I said I was going to run a shift. … I think the company was changing from the standpoint of I had all my ducks in a row and everything was good, so maybe I wasn’t working as much as they thought I should be working, or when (I should be working).”

Pete was devastated. He cried when he called his brother and father with the news about his job. He recalls looking into Tara’s eyes as he told her.

“Dude, I will never forget. She hugged me and said, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ That’s when I knew she was the one.

“It was the darkest place I’ve ever been in my life. Very dark.”

Now the owner of three Shreveport-Bossier Dillas Primo Quesadillas locations (with locations in Ruston and Nacogdoches, Texas, coming soon), Pete told me his story over lunch at Bayou Deli & Casserole Shop. The Captain Shreve graduate and former Gators third baseman chose that restaurant for sentimental reasons. More on that in a minute.

Out of darkness comes light. The day after THE day, Pete’s phone rang. And rang. And rang.

“Who do you think was calling? Zaxby’s. All (of Cane’s) competitors. They were like, ‘We’ve heard.’”

Pete, the father of two young girls, fought the temptation to jump right back into the restaurant world with advice from a family friend.

“Do not jump out of one box into another box. You’ve got to jump into a totally different shape. You can’t go from this square to this square because the same thing is going to happen. It’s the corporate world.”

After a year doing something he wasn’t crazy about, Pete accepted an offer from one of his former Cane’s co-workers, who had founded Dillas in Plano, Texas.

“When I walked in, I knew it immediately. I smelled the brisket smoking. I went into the cooler and smelled the fresh veggies. … I went there and fell in love.”

Pete and Dillas’ owner struck a deal, giving Pete the rights to open Dillas restaurants in Louisiana and East Texas.

But what about going from one box to another box after only a year?

“This was Entrepreneurialism 101.” However, an entrepreneur needs cash — and health benefits for his/her family — to start a business.

“I said (to Tara), ‘Hey, baby, listen, I’ve got two things. I need all of our money, and you have to go back to work.’ She said, ‘Oh, this sounds like a wonderful idea.’”

But that wasn’t quite enough. Pete needed more capital, so he took a relative and a friend up on their offer from when he left Cane’s.

They had told him, “Whenever you decide what you want to do, let us know, and we will support you financially.”

During our 90-minute conversation, one thing was clear. Throughout his life, Pete — the youngest of three siblings — has received, and continues to receive, support from those who know him.

“I’ve always done the right thing.

I’ve always done the right thing. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”

In November 2018 — 18 months after THE day — The Big Kahuna stood once again, this time under the Dillas sign on Pierremont Road in Shreveport. And during Covid, Pete was an outlier. While other owners were closing businesses, Pete was opening two more Dillas, one in Bossier City and another in Shreveport.

“(The founder) didn’t have to allow me to open Dillas in Shreveport, Louisiana. You have Plano, Texas, this huge metropolis of Dallas, and Shreveport? He knew I was genuine, and I was going to give 100 percent. I don’t believe in failure. I believe you make it happen.”

Now, back to why the place where we had lunch is special to Pete. It used to be Deli Casino, owned by Pete’s Aunt Dayle and Uncle Sam. At one time, they also had a Bossier location, where Pete worked in college while driving back and forth to Louisiana Tech. Deli Casino is where Pete first found his love for the restaurant business.

“I liked being around people. I liked producing something people enjoyed. I liked people smiling when they left. I liked being involved in the community. I didn’t just go to an office every day. I was part of the movin’ and the shakin’. People would leave the restaurant and go back to their office. I got to see the next person. I liked that energy.”

Pete has turned his fondness for community involvement into his passion. Dillas does very little traditional advertising.

Instead, Pete has built Dillas through a grassroots campaign, working everything from fundraisers to Field Day.

“I want to be the community’s restaurant, not just a restaurant in the community. I want people to know I’m supporting your kid’s school. I’m at your tee ball game. I want people to know this is a restaurant that is legit going to give back to the community.”

As the clock ticked, I was sure Pete needed to get back to his job, which, for him, is more fun than work. So I asked my final question. As always, what is it about his life story that can be helpful to others?

“This is easy for me, because I talk about it all the time with my kids. There are three things in life you can control. Only three. You control your attitude, you control your energy, and you control your effort. Other than those three things, you control nothing. If you can understand you are responsible for your attitude, your energy and your effort, you will be successful.”

Last September, in his personal life, he practiced what he preached. 43-year-old Pete, whose father had open heart surgery with seven bypasses, went to the doctor weighing 227 pounds. He now weighs 175 pounds. I did a double take when we met. The shape of Pete’s face — the shape of his entire body — had changed from when I saw him last.

“Losing weight and getting healthy was a conscious decision that I controlled. I control what I put in my mouth, and I control how hard I work out. Spiritually, I control going to church and praying. I control all that. I can’t let you dictate what I do.”

Nor did Pete let a corporate decision dictate his future.

“It was the greatest thing to ever happen to me.”


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