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Brandon Hudson and Damion Mason posing inside one of their Marco's Pizza locations.

Former college roommates-turned Marco’s Pizza franchisees strive to be leaders in the Black community

Brandon Hudson and Damion Mason won a Franchisee of the Year award for their seven-unit Marco’s franchising business (and growing)

If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.

In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Brandon Hudson and Damion Mason who turned a 20-year friendship into a thriving and growing franchise business, with seven Marco’s Pizza locations (and counting) in Virginia. The two recently won an International Franchise Association Franchisee of the Year award for their operational excellence and leadership in the Black entrepreneurial community.

Store count: Seven Marco’s Pizzas, located in Virginia: five in Richmond, and two in Western Virginia, with two more locations opening soon, and another nine in development

History together

Hudson: We both met at Virginia State University… and from there, we joined the same fraternity — Phi Beta Sigma. When I graduated in 2004, I started out working for the USDA and quickly realized that that it wasn't for me — a city boy from Chicago working on farms…. I opened my first company, a mental health organization, and from there, I started learning about entrepreneurship. A couple of years later, I assisted Damian and his wife in opening up their own mental health company, and then we partnered together to help his company grow. By 2010, we’d been business partners for about 15 years now in various industries… and we were looking to diversify into the QSR space and now, here we are.

Mason: For me, after college I went to work for a couple of a couple of accounting firms, and it was just so boring and fulfilling… so when Brandon told me about doing his own thing, I was really into it. We got to set our own schedules, and help the youth in our community…It was a no brainer to me, and I fell in love with working with at-risk youth. The rest is history.

Why Marco’s

Hudson: It was a love of [Marco’s] food that got us going. They opened up a Marco’s in our area and I thought it was a mom-and-pop location, and I’m from Chicago, so I consider myself a pizza connoisseur, so I wanted to try it myself. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is so good,” and my whole family loved it too, and then I told Damian to try it and his family started eating it too. Then we realized it was a franchise, and that was surprising. So after that, we started doing a lot of research to figure out how much it would cost to own one. The next thing we know, we found ourselves in Toledo, talking with the corporate folks up there and we just took the bull by the horns and opened our first location in 2018.

From friends to business partners

Mason: I'm big on trust and I've known Brandon for a while…. I think it works better when you're friends and can have a relationship with your business partner.

Hudson: I think initially when I went into business, I had this mentality of, “don’t go into business with family, friends and frat brothers,” because it can get kind of convoluted and ruin relationships. But when you find somebody whose business goals and values are aligned with yours... it’s the greatest feeling.

Winning an IFA award

Hudson: We're not doing this to get awards; we just want to be the best business owners and franchisees that we can be personally. So, when we just doing the work and taking it seriously and working hard, winning awards are just a byproduct…. We were shocked, and I didn't realize how big of an honor it was until I started looking online at what it all meant. It was quite the honor. 

Keys to success

Mason: We’re big on people, and we tend to treat people fairly. We run our restaurants like a family brand, and we understand what it takes to keep people happy and engaged. 

Hudson: We’re a people business and we just happen to sell pizza. We got to work in the restaurants making pizza, and it was my first time doing that. You start to develop a relationship with the employees there and understand the amount of hours and hard work they put in, so you have a different level of appreciation for them… we’re also really good at managing the economics and making sure we don’t overspend…. But the biggest component is how you treat people and how you resolve issues.

Inspiring the next generation of Black business owners

Mason: We talked to a lot of our students at [our alma mater] Virginia State University…. They reach out to us, and we give them advice, especially in the Black community, so even just passing on that information is important.

Hudson: The information gap in the African American community is huge… with a lot of the mistakes that I make, I just want to make sure that the people coming after me don't make the same ones. The losses are just lessons and building blocks for you as you go along. 

Community endeavors

Hudson: We’ve done things with the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club where we went and talked to African American kids and at-risk kids so they can see what a successful Black business owner looks like…. I’ve done things like a Shark Tank-like event where we sit back and let them come up with ideas and we grade them and give them advice…. Not only do we want to see them succeed… we want to show them what success looks like outside of a being a musician or an athlete, that there are opportunities in entrepreneurship and franchising.

Future goals

Hudson: Our first goal was to be the largest African American franchisee in the Marco’s brand, so I called corporate and asked them, “who is that person and how many stores do they have?” And then I asked, “who has the most in Virginia?”… This competitive juice just gives you reasons to keep moving forward…. We want to grow as big as we can, and we want to help Marco’s become the 4th largest pizza brand…. We’re committed to a long-term partnership and maybe one day we could have 30, 40 stores, or maybe even 50. We’ll just keep our heads down and do it.

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