"This Grandfather Bet His House That Burgers and Beer Will Never Go Out of Style"

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After decades as an executive in the restaurant business, Mark Eggen applied his expertise to his own chain of casual eateries.

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Hop Jack's owner Mark Eggen and family. CREDIT: Courtesy company

By Leigh Buchanan | Editor-at-large, Inc. magazine

"Hop Jack's is locally famous for its brews, burgers, and neighborhood feel. The company has 12 restaurants, with three more under construction, mostly around Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. It employs 800 people and does more than $30 million in annual sales. The casual-dining juggernaut is the creation of a first-time entrepreneur who found himself unemployed in his 50s.

Mark Eggen, 62, spent most of his life working for the Red Robin chain, where he learned two things: how to run restaurants and how to scale restaurants. Eggen would likely have been a Red Robin lifer had the company's IPO not required he relocate from Seattle to Denver. Unwilling to move while his kids were in high school, Eggen joined another company, from which he got fired.

Eggen next bought a pizza franchise and ran it for three years. But being a good franchiser did not make him a very good franchisee. "At that age and point in my experience, I did not like being told what to do," he says. "So eight years ago--I was 54--I came home and said, 'Honey, I have got just enough money left to open my own restaurant.'"

After selling the pizza restaurant back to the company, Eggen had $100,000 to invest in the new venture. He also applied to the bank that financed his franchise for a $500,000 loan. "They said, 'Yeah, if you put your house up,'" says Eggen. "I knew it was a risk, but I wanted to do it. If I was unsuccessful, I was going to have to work a lot longer. But I enjoy working."

Coming up with a concept was easy: Eggen knew bars and burgers. Having started his career running an individual Red Robin, he believed restaurants that reflect the personality and leadership of the general manager treat people better--and consequently perform better--than corporate-driven entities. So he positioned Hop Jack's as a cozy neighborhood gathering spot, but with the infrastructure to scale."

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