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The King of Jacks

Perhaps no word sums up Vin Mehta's performance as a Jack in the Box franchisee better than "exponential." So exponential, in fact, that the Medford man now owns every Jack in the Box franchise in the state of Oregon.

In 15 years, Mehta's holdings have gone from two Medford Jack in the Box stores to 64 in Oregon and southwest Washington. The greatest growth has come in the past two years, as he acquired 43 formerly corporate-owned locations.

In addition to his more than 2,000 employees in the restaurants, the 2009 Jack in the Box Franchisee of the Year has kept accountants, architects, contractors and permits issuers busy this year, opening new stores in Kelso, Wash., and Happy Valley with five more — Cottage Grove, Redmond, Lebanon, Newberg and White City to come.

And he has plans for many more sites.

It's been a good run, he admits, for an immigrant who was making $2.95 an hour selling doughnuts in 1984. He went from selling doughnuts to managing several doughnut shops in the Bay Area, working 18 hour days.

The fruits of that labor came in 1996 when he purchased his first two Jack in the Box stores on Barnett Road and Table Rock Road, both in Medford.

"It was timing, good decisions and all of that," he said. "But whatever I am today, my health and courage is because of my wife, Semma."

Mehta, who came to the United States from India in the early '80s, says his wife of 21 years runs his office, is highly involved in operations and is a constant source of encouragement.

Mehta also owns Holiday Inn Express near the Harry & David Country Village and is gearing up to build an 82-unit Hampton Inn & Suites in Klamath Falls. Three years ago he acquired a restaurant on Water Street in Ashland, then remodeled and rechristened it Taj Indian Cuisine.

Mark McKechnie of Oregon Architecture in Medford worked up the plans for the 2,504-square-foot White City restaurant near the intersection of Crater Lake Highway and Avenue A, across from Abby's Pizza, due to open Nov. 15.

Mehta credited Jackson County for acting quickly to partition three-quarters of an acre from a parcel owned by Valley Christian Fellowship.

"We applied in March and needed everything in place before Aug. 10," Mehta said.

The construction bids are due today and will be awarded Monday with ground breaking set for Sept. 1. The 55 new hires in White City will join more than 2,000 already on Mehta's payroll.

Mehta put the total price on the White City restaurant, including land, at $1.7 million. That's between $300,000 and $400,000 less than what it would have cost before the real estate market imploded.

"It's a good time to buy commercial real estate," Mehta said. "The economy is weak, but if you buy now the property is cheaper."

Mehta was in the right place at the right time when Jack in the Box, a San Diego-based publicly traded firm with more than 2,200 locations in 19 states, shifted its long-term strategy.

About five years ago the sixth-biggest quick-serve restaurant began a shift from owning 80 percent of its restaurants and franchising 20 percent, to reversing that equation.

"The goal was to get up to the industry standard of 70 to 80 percent of the restaurants owned by franchises," said Randy Carmichael, a Jack in the Box spokesman. "Right now, we're at about 67 percent, with the company owning 800 to 900 restaurants."

While Mehta is among the company's top-10 franchise holders, there are partnerships with hundreds of stores.

"Historically, we've done well," Carmichael said. "In the last couple of years, like everyone, we've taken a hit but we've had pretty good growth."

One the company's strategy's allows franchisees to develop restaurants, sell the property to the corporation and then lease them back.

"It helps our franchisees to manage costs and expectations," Carmichael said. "Our strategy has been contiguous growth going after markets next to the ones where we already are penetrating."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.

Vin Mehta, of Medford, who was selling doughnuts for $2.95 an hour in 1984, now owns every Jack in the Box restaurant in Oregon. - Alisha Jucevic