Retired Firefighter Builds a Pizza Empire and a Family Legacy

Mike McLean grew up in Philadelphia, the youngest of three kids in an Italian family. Every Friday night in the McLean house was pizza night. Mike’s mother and father were both teachers, and his father coached. All of the McLean kids played sports, and Friday night gave the crew of five a chance to sit around the table, catch up on each others’ lives, and enjoy family time.

When Mike married Suzanne in 2004, they moved to Loganville, Georgia, a suburb at the far reaches of Metro Atlanta. Far enough out to avoid the traffic; close enough in to enjoy the city. But one thing was missing — good, New York Style pizza. Mike and Suzanne, who was also a pizza lover, searched high and low for a slice that measured up to Mike’s childhood pizza nights.

When they found a Johnny’s Pizza in a nearby town, they became regulars. And while Mike wanted to carry on the tradition of family pizza night, he never thought the pizza business would end up supporting his own family.

Soon a Johnny’s franchise opened in Loganville — Mike and Suzanne’s own backyard. Mike kicked himself. “We should have done this,” he said to his wife one night, watching a bustling Johnny’s crowd enjoy hot pizza and cold beer late into the evening.

At the time, Mike was working as a firefighter in Conyers, a nearby suburb. He loved the thrill, hard work and personal satisfaction his job gave him. Plus, the atypical work hours allowed him to start his own home-building company.

One afternoon, Suzanne came to the fire station for lunch. “Too bad there isn’t a Johnny’s in Conyers,” she said. The next day, Mike called Johnny’s corporate office. He had worked hard his whole life, so the learning curve didn’t scare him, and he knew Johnny’s had the most valuable thing going: a great product. Mike and Suzanne entered a franchise agreement soon after.

Their Conyers grand opening was huge. “Our friends and family night was so busy, Luke and Scott [the owners of Johnny’s Pizza] rolled up their sleeves and helped us in the kitchen,” Mike said. The full tables, nonstop orders coming into the kitchen, and heaping plates of food going out gave Mike a rush of adrenaline. And while the shop never really slowed down, Mike and Suzanne grew comfortable as franchise owners. Two years later, with better-than-expected profits, they open a second location in a nearby town.

Mike, still a Lieutenant in the fire department, was accustomed to running a crew. He also had a knack for opening new stores. His construction background and the time he spent as a fire marshal lent him a familiarity with store build-out requirements. Not to mention, he liked the thrill of opening new franchises.

So when Mike retired from the fire service in 2015, he opened another franchise in Tampa, Florida, and became the regional developer of franchise sales there. “I don’t know why we can’t sit still,” he says of himself and his wife. “We like to drive things. We’re just those kind of people.”

Their drive has paid off. Aside from feeding his entrepreneurial hunger, Mike’s pizza empire has provided well for for his family. “The franchises have been a steady source of income, and they allow me to make my own schedule, which was something very hard to do at the fire department. I don’t work through birthdays or Christmas anymore,” he says.

Now, his kids are in college and Suzanne is starting another business in real estate. Mike is focused on the Tampa market, and he’s enjoying every minute. “It’s easy for me — I love pizza,” Mike says. “I have a slice every day. It’s quality control!”