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Thomason expands his food influence

Dave Thomason has an eye for food and beverage franchises. Be it a hamburger spot, coffee stop or roadside eatery, Thomason has developed a knack for growing and fine-tuning food franchises.

After starting with Carl's Jr. more than three decades ago, Thomason Hospitality Group LLC now operates Elmer's, Human Bean and Pita Pit franchises, along with Tap Rock Northwest Grill, with more than 600 employees.

The Grants Pass restaurateur acquired a couple of Pita Pit shops in the summer of 2016 and with nine franchises is now numbered among the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based company's largest franchisees in the country. Last year, Thomason was voted chairman of the chain's Franchise Advisory Committee.

In the fast-food world, Pita Pit is grouped with sandwich shops ranging from Subway, Jimmy Johns, Jersey Mike's and Firehouse Subs.

"Pita Pit leans toward a healthier meal and choices," Thomason said. "I like being on the front lines of that kind of thing."

His council assignment coincides with significant menu and service changes. Thomason's two stores in Beaverton are among those serving as a test market for what Pita Pit refers to as Menu 4.0. He's been sitting in on debriefing sessions that help determine fixes and tweaks, which potentially will include a reduction in food costs for franchisees.

"People who like the brand are not going to be disappointed," he said. "From what I've seen, it's being accepted very well."

Marketing is near and dear to his heart — what works, and what doesn't. He likens himself to a sponge soaking up industry intelligence both within and outside his company.

"I've had a boatload of experience of how to market your brand in everything from fast-food through Elmer's, all the way to Tap Rock," Thomason said. "I'm a real student of our industry and try to keep abreast of trends, what's hot, what's not, what's in and what's out."

Thomason sold his interest in Carl's Jr. restaurants eight years ago and briefly operated Blimpie sub sandwiches and Kenny Rogers Roasters. He is Elmer's Restaurants largest franchise holder in Oregon with six restaurants and entered the coffee world with Human Bean.

It's a positive thing when chains consider franchisees as friends rather than enemies, said Thomason, who has served on Carl's Jr. and Human Bean franchise boards.

"Not all franchisors have these kind of links to the franchisees," Thomason said. "Some really great ideas have come from the franchise communities."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Pita Pit employee Dustin Torrey prepares lunch for Mike and Emily Freeman at the Medford restaurant Tuesday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]