Food and Restaurant Blog
VJMS Dining, LLC
Dan Markel is a California-based entrepreneur, investor, advisor, and restauranteur who has excelled in a variety of business offerings, one of them being a life-time of success in the restaurant industry. Owning and operating one of the most successful franchises of Jersey Mike’s Subs in the nation, his love of sandwiches and all crave-able food led him to create the holding company VJMS Dining, LLC, to own, operate and offer his favorite foods to people that come to his restaurants. To that end, he has agreements with Dog Haus and Hummus & Pita, Co. from NYC to expand throughout the state of California and beyond. In the past year, Markel formed a new holding company known as Pure Blue Group. The company was shortly formed after getting in touch with USC business school classmate, Dennis Wang. Together, the two formed the company in 2019 and the company oversees all of of Markel’s businesses in all industries
VJMS Mission Statement:
“Crave-able, fast casual food concept with a fun-loving and unique experience for all customers who step foot in our restaurant locations. For equity partners VJMS will offer direct ownership in proven franchise concepts offering consistent, long term cash flow – all while carrying on a philanthropic culture within every community in which we operate.”
Business and Market Overview
By aggregating four (4) exceptional, complementary and proven “fast casual” concepts, through the newly established parent company, VJMS Dining, LLC, a California Limited Liability Company (VJMS), this offering will provide a small group of investors the opportunity to invest directly to multiple proven restaurant concepts. With five (5) years of a proven track record and three (3) years of due diligence on other concepts (of which fully negotiated and executed agreements are in place), VJMS is perfectly positioned for expanded success in arguably the most attractive market for fast casual in the country – Southern California. The net distributable cash flow from each location will be utilized to finance growth and offer consistent attractive distributions to all limited partners. For marketing and Operations, the company has procured an elite team to execute the plan. Additionally the company has enlisted industry experts in the fast casual market to attract and procure the best operating team for all brands as the company expands its concepts throughout California and beyond.
Dan Markel with VJMS has executed Franchise Agreements with Jersey Mike’s, Dog Haus, Hummus & Pita, Co. and City Wok. Specifically, with Hummus & Pita, Co and Dog Haus, he also has broader Area Representative Agreement giving VJMS expansive growth opportunities that would allow for the development of hundreds of restaurant locations in prime California counties.
VJMS Competitive Advantage
- Best Market in the world with Southern California
- Blue Oceans ahead with successful, complimentary brands
- Experienced Management Team with Proven Track Record
- Diversification and Ability to Pivot mitigates risk
- Repeatable models of 1,200 to 3,000 sq. ft. locations for all brands
- Ability to diversify and pivot quickly with concepts
Dan Markel was first introduced to Jersey Mike’s after nearly five (5) year search for a crave-able sandwich concept in which to invest. As an admitted sandwich freak/addict, he knew when he began his search “default” eating an option like Subway, as an investment that he could be passionate about, Subway was not going to cut it. So, when Markel had his first #13, Original Italian Sandwich from Jersey Mike’s on a random night out with friends he knew immediately it was a winner. After unwrapping the masterpiece sub with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and the “liquid cocaine” of oil and vinegar spilling out of the sandwich he knew he had found his sandwich concept. Now after 5 years of opening his first Jersey Mike’s location (that he immediately turned into one of the Top 10 locations in the country) Markel is excited to expand throughout Southern California and beyond. The special mouthing watering thought of Oil and Vinegar “tang” coupled with a killer, memorable customer experience Markel has positioned VJMS Dining to open and acquire another 30-50 Jersey Mike’s in the next 5 years. Jersey Mike’s will be a one of the pillars of success as a core concept for VJMS Dining.
The company started back in 1956, in this actual storefront location and was originally called Mike’s Subs. Mike opened the small shop in the sea-side town of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. You have to remember that in 1956, there were very few franchise restaurants or hamburger chains. No chain pizza, chicken or taco restaurants, either. In 1956, proprietors of mom-and-pop businesses would open their stores in basic storefront locations like you see here. To survive and thrive, they had to offer exceptional quality products, coupled with unparalleled service. In 1956, Mike was unique in that the product he was offering was a relatively new item in American society – the submarine sandwich.
Mike also benefited from the geographic location of his store. Point Pleasant, New Jersey is centrally located in the state on the legendary Jersey Shore. It is approximately 1 hour south of New York City, 1 hour east of Philadelphia, and about 3 hours north of Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C. For over a century, the people that lived and worked in these metropolitan areas would flock to Point Pleasant to experience the sun, surf, sand, boardwalk, salt water taffy, and all the treasures that made up the legendary Jersey Shore experience. Mike capitalized on the influx of vacationers, visitors and residents by offering them his unique new product – submarine sandwiches. But what really differentiated his restaurant was the experience he gave his customers. Recognizing them by name, and knowing the sandwich they were going to order, because of their frequent visits. People would line up throughout the summer to buy the sub sandwiches that Mike was selling, and to enjoy the experience of coming into his shop. For over half a decade, he built the business into a thriving landmark, and was a pioneer of the authentic subs sandwich.
In 1971, Peter Cancro was a high school student in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. He began working at Mike’s Subs at the age of 14. Peter loved working at Mike’s. He loved authentic submarine sandwiches. But even more, Peter loved working behind the counter, interacting and talking with the customers. He liked learning about where they were from and their summer vacation experiences. He took pride in knowing which authentic sub sandwich his loyal customer would order as they entered the store. When Peter was a senior in high school, he overheard the owner ofs Mike’s Subs discussing selling the business. He thought to himself, “I love the food, I love working in the store, maybe I’ll buy the shop.” Pretty ambitious for a 17-year-old kid. Peter approached his football coach and said “Hey coach, Mike’s Sub shop is for sale, and I’m interested in buying it. Can you help me out?” It didn’t hurt that his football coach was also a banker. The football coach came through for Peter, and backed his loan. So, at the tender age of 17 – before he was legally able to slice a sub – Peter Cancro became the owner and proprietor of Mike’s Subs.
Shortly after buying Mike’s, he married his former wife Linda and they opened a couple more local outlets of Mike’s Subs. He expanded upon the phenomenon of Mike’s Subs. Teaching the crew to interact and talk with the customer, to share a passion for getting to know the customer. He spent the next decade building on the cult-like following that Mike’s Subs already enjoyed. They would have customers lined up out the door in the summertime waiting to get the authentic sub sandwiches that Mike’s was famous for.
In the mid-eighties, Peter heard more and more people say, “Peter, we’re going to miss you and your subs this winter. We sure wish you would put a Mike’s where we live!” People would come in at the end of the summer and get several giant subs wrapped for travel, to carry back to their homes across the country. This got Peter thinking, and he started researching the possibilities of franchising the Mike’s concept. In 1987, Peter began franchising. He changed the name from Mike’s Subs to Jersey Mike’s Subs to capture the authenticity of where the authentic sub sandwich was born.
Today, Peter Cancro is CEO of Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc., overseeing more than 1,500 locations open and under development. Despite the title, Peter still jumps behind the counter to test his skills and demonstrate his passion for the product and the customer. He tries to instill that passion in every store he enters and with every franchisee he meets.
Today, the authentic taste – served Mike’s Way® with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, oil, vinegar and spices – is available nationwide. Our secret? Everything about Jersey Mike’s is high quality. Our MSA Grade top round beef are trimmed and cooked right in the store. Our meats and cheeses are all top-quality premium brands. Our bread is fresh-baked each day on the premises. And of course, everything is prepared right in front of you. It’s what makes Jersey Mike’s the most authentic tasting submarine sandwich available, and it’s a tradition of quality we’ll never outgrow.
The Hummus & Pita, Co.
Dan Markel and Narek Khudabakhshyan started their love of Mediterranean food on their respective honeymoons. Both went to Greece with their wives (Kathleen Markel wife for 26 years and Mariam Bagdasaryan) where their mutual love of Mediterranean food was born. With Narek’s Armenian heritage growing up with eastern Mediterranean food, he took his love for the food all the way to the top with chef’s training at Le Cordon Bleu. It was in 2014 while working with Markel, they first discussed expanding their work together into other concepts. Narek, with his chef’s training and deep understanding of the “line” concept’s (after a successful time managing one of the busiest Chipotle locations in the country), explained to his owner, Markel, that a Fast-Casual Mediterranean concept would do incredibly well and to date no company had done it. Markel recognized the market opportunity and shared his love of Mediterranean for its heritage and healthfulness and started the due diligence process of either, 1) starting their own concept or 2) finding the right concept early on that VJMS could grow with.
Markel, with his background in private equity and national expansion experience he began researching the opportunity. The success of Chipotle, Blaze Pizza and Panda Express as fast casual ethnic cuisines, all have shown tremendous success and broad demographic appeal, a Mediterranean fast casual concept became a clear opportunity! So, the plan was initiated to find the right concept to take a food group with thousands of years of history of foundation of freshness, health oriented staple diet for millions of people around the world and bring it to the hungry public in a clean, warm, fresh, modern Fast Casual concept.
And after researching hundreds of locations in several cities and going deep down the road of creating their own concept, Markel and Khudabakhshyan took a trip to New York City to give a new concept one final try before launching their own concept.
Well needless to say, the trip to NYC to meet with the founders of H & P, taste the food and see the restaurants, led to a wonderful partnership and the opportunity to own the rights to the state of California with another winning concept for VJMS.
The company was founded by Dave and Steve Pesso in New York City in 2012 after growing with up with a Greek father and Mediterranean mother, The Hummus & Pita, Co (THPC) have created a best in class operators of fast-casual restaurant created to offer Mediterranean cuisine. The company’s restaurant, serves 100% homemade, classic dishes from across the Mediterranean region and combines a variety of healthy and flavorful favorites with modern-American service.
Dan Rowe was riding in an Uber about four years ago when he saw a line out the door at The Hummus & Pita Co., a concept he hadn’t seen before.
The CEO of Fransmart, a franchise consulting firm, stopped the car, got out and stood in the lobby to watch all of the activity. He then made a pitch to David Pesso, whose family founded the chain. Pesso said no, the brand wasn’t ready yet.
“I stalked David for months trying to make a deal, and I couldn’t,” Rowe said. “I was talking national from the moment I saw them.”
Pesso said the brand is ready to take that step now. And now, with four popular locations, The Hummus & Pita Co. doesn’t just have help from Fransmart, but from an investment infusion from Kitchen Fund, an investing fund Rowe helped found, along with Greg Golkin.
Kitchen Fund is investing in the chain by helping it build an infrastructure that will enable The Hummus & Pita Co. to start franchising. “They bring a lot to the table,” Pesso said. “The capital is a small part of it. They have a wealth of knowledge in fast casual and franchising.”
Janice Axelrod founded The Hummus & Pita Co. in 2011, based on her recipes, and got her family involved, including her sons, David and Steve Pesso. The kids grew up eating hummus and pita. “That was part of our diet,” in the early ’80s, David Pesso said. “As the years have gone on, we’ve seen it more and more. Hummus went from being on a small Middle East shelf [in the grocery store] to aisles full of 20 different brands of hummus and pita.” Axelrod had been involved in finance and owned a mortgage bank. She sold it in 2008, and dreamed of opening a restaurant. She put her recipes together and the family launched the restaurant. She was in her mid-60s and said, ‘This is my dream, my last hurrah, and I want my family to be involved,’” Pesso said. The restaurant serves a menu from a mix of Mediterranean dishes — Greek, Turkish, Palestinian, Moroccan — including shawarma, gyros and 12 different flavors of hummus, along with steak and chicken made in a clay oven. The menu also includes vegetarian and vegan options. The family deliberately gave the concept a basic, Americanized name, with modern décor inside the restaurant. “We didn’t want it to be something ethnic, or something Greek like Athena,” Pesso said. “The only ethnic part is the authenticity and the food, but it looks and feels like you’re in an American place.” The first unit opened in 2012, in New York, with 2,200 square feet and 62 seats. “It was a hit,” Pesso said. Just three months later, Dan Rowe showed up. “He loved the food, saw the lines and loved the feel for the place,” Pesso said. “For the past five years, two or three times a year, he would email or call and ask if we wanted to take the next step. But No. 1, we had to have proof of brand first.” Rowe then approached them and told them about Kitchen Fund.
Rowe and Golkin, a financier who has worked with Goldman Sachs and Maverick Capital, among other places, started Kitchen Fund last year. They’ve made investments in a handful of startup concepts, including The Pie Hole, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse and Inday. They started the fund to make early-stage investments in restaurant concepts. “There is a shift going on,” Golkin said. “Consumer demands are changing more quickly than maybe they ever have in the food space.”
Many of these concepts are in “a tricky part of the growth curve,” Golkin said, because they are too small to get institutional investor attention, but are too big for friends and family to help. “It’s harder money to raise,” Rowe said. Kitchen Fund’s goal is to identify concepts connecting with those consumers and to help them grow. “The Hummus & Pita Co. is really the perfect thesis for us,” Golkin said. “Over the last few years, they’ve opened four successful units in New York as a family business. Now they have the operations, infrastructure and menu, all in a way that prepares them for really rapid growth at this point.”
One of the very first Dog Haus locations opened in Burbank, California just minutes from Markel’s home in Toluca Lake, CA. He thought, “a hot dog” joint? Good luck! It has also had taken over the lease of an old Taco Bell that was in a coveted location right across the main gate of Warner Bros Studio. He would try the food eventually as the colors and the design looked interesting. It wasn’t until months later while driving near University of Southern California with his wife visiting their son on campus when they saw a second DH location and decided to stop in as Kathleen Markel was having a hankering for a good hot dog. From the moment they stepped into the hip, fresh and cool design, they knew they were seeing something different.
The food was magical! We ordered a sample menu offering five different dogs, sausages and burger sliders and everything was off the charts. All crave-able, different food with a hip millennial, GenX biergarten/sports bar setting -right in the sweet spot of VJMS concepts – crave-able fast casual concept delivered with unique, fresh, fun customer interaction.
Markel called the Franchisor headquarters from the location and two months later owned the rights to open locations in Southern California with his founding partners in VJMS. We currently have multiple Letters of Interest out on prime SoCal locations and believe our first location will be open early next year with several more in development.
OLD SCHOOL, NEW TWIST — Remember when you were a kid and hot dogs were your favorite food? We’ve always loved a good dog and we’ve taken that love to a new level—ensuring that same level of fun and enjoyment for hot dog lovers of all ages. In less than 3 years, we’ve gone from an idea to 3 stores, national acclaim and the best guests a restaurant could dream of.
Dog Haus is the premier hot dog, sausage and burger joint where freshly-made food and a fun environment are combined with the best fast casual dining experience around. From day one, we’ve put our energies towards creating a concept that brings guests back for more and creates unbelievably positive word of mouth.
We opened our first store in October 2010 with a vision of making hot dogs, sausages and burgers that were more than just food by making them a complete experience that lives on in the memories of our guests and ensures our place at the top of our industry. Our concept resonated with what people want to eat, as well as the kind of experience they want when eating a casual meal with family and friends. It was such a success that we opened a second location a year later and a third six months after that.
People love our hot dog, sausage and burger creations. Dog Haus’ combination of sweet and savory in every bite, as well as our unique combinations, have created a cult following that extends across the United States. All of which flow directly from our mission of providing uncompromisingly fresh, quality food and a clean, energetic and fun environment coupled with excellent service. Our fresh ingredients, proprietary recipes and made to order items have garnered glowing press locally and nationally—always in the context of how fun a trip to Dog Haus is.
The Dog Haus experience emphasizes fun, personal connection and community engagement, not just for our guests, but for our staff as well by creating a work environment that encourages commitment, teamwork and personal advancement. This is another example of commitment to the Dog Haus mission, which includes creating a successful corporation that pays forward to the community while maintaining the most desirable work environment possible by valuing our team and ensuring them opportunities for their personal and professional growth. Simply put, there is no place quite like Dog Haus. It’s the haus that everyone wants to be in.
Achievements and Experience
Some career achievements are as follows:
- Proven leadership & communication skills gained from many years’ experience with national expansions of two different companies he founded.
- Highly skilled in executive leadership, branding, profit and loss management, pricing strategies, staffing, purchasing, menu, marketing, real estate, & franchising.
- Known for People Development, Team Building, Training, Goal Setting, & Motivation
- Oversaw the acquisition, ownership and management of nearly 4,000 apartment units around the country.
- Founded and expanded revolutionary treatment centers for alcohol and addiction patients.
- Acquired franchise agreements for four major brands (Jersey Mike’s, Dog Haus, Hummus & Pita, Co. and City Wok) for California totaling over 300 units including airport opportunities around the country.
- Realizing national exposure and expansion of Hummus & Pita, Co. by bringing the brand to the most attractive trade area in the country for healthy fast casual – Southern California.
- Acquired a team of operators under a new model that provides all of them equity from VJMS Dining with opportunity for them to be truly owner/operators.
Food Service Experience:
- Ranch Bowl, Omaha, Nebraska. I started as a busboy and pin setter at age 13 and later managed the entire facility.
- Catch A Rising Star, New York City, four years, Bartender and Doorman
- Chumley’s, New York City, Bartender
- The Blue Moon, New York City, Investor
- Sushi Roku, Katana Steakhouse, Las Vegas, NV, Investor
- Nick and Willy’s Pizza, Franchisee
- Jersey Mike’s Franchisee/Owner of top store
Dan plans to expand his impact in this sector nationwide, branching out to franchise even more quick-serve restaurants. He created this blog to share news about this part of his career, as well as to provide insights into the food/restaurant sector overall through his newly formed company, VJMS Dining, LLC. He currently owns the Orange County territory for Dog Haus and rights to the entire state of California for the new Mediterranean Fast Casual concept “Hummus & Pita, Co.” founded in New York City.
More About Dan
Beyond this sector, Dan has 20+ years of experience as Managing Member/General Partner of over 30 Private Placements offered through his firm, DT Securities, Ltd. He has overseen all aspects of acquisitions, development, securities, and investor relations.
In commercial real estate, Dan’s focus has been on multi-family since founding DT in 1996. His leadership and expertise with adaptive reuse projects in Los Angeles was recognized by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal with the award-winning DT Noho Lofts project. He also founded and managed the real estate brokerage firm, DT Real Estate Investments in Studio City, California from 2004 to 2008.
Dan also founded MyLife Recovery Centers, the leader and pioneer in addiction recovery and the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. MyLife includes the long lasting Naltrexone implant as part of its holistic approach to treatment, particularly in the crucial first six months. At the moment Markel is working with an international group of doctors and investors to bring yet another life-changing patented treatment into the wellness industry. The goal is to to introduce a new treatment to Southern California by 2020.
Dan received his Bachelor’s Degree with honors from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles where he was an adjunct professor in investing, financial planning and entrepreneurship. He earned a Master’s Degree from New York University and has completed one year of his Executive MBA at the University of Southern California. He resides in Toluca Lake, California with his wife Kathleen and their four children Vivian, Jackson, Max and Stella. He is an avid golfer and youth coach for his children.