The Washtenaw Voice

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by Robert Conradi


Donald Snider

Local entrepreneur Donald Snider discusses pizza and his book.

Chasing the almighty dollar has always been one of the primary goals of Donald Snider, but only recently did he realize that the big dough was in pizza.

Succeeding in many different industries over the course of his life, one of the most successful local entrepreneurs has again found one that has brought him more success — Papa John’s Pizza.

The owner of two pizza establishments in the Ann Arbor area, Snider was announced as Man of the Year by “Native Detroiter” magazine, which also features Congressman John Conyers and former Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. as co-Men of the Year.

“Although earning a living and employing people in the community was very important to Mr. Snider, his true focus was leaving a legacy for his children and grandchildren, which he someday hoped to be blessed with,” the magazine writes of Snider.

Snider shares his story and gives details about his life in his 2009 book “Beyond the Bling.” In it, he offers suggestions for financial success.

“I really wrote the book to leave behind for my family members,” said Snider. “Mostly at speaking engagements, they want me to talk about the book and bring the book to sell.”

Born in Detroit, Snider moved to Chicago as a child, but came back to Michigan for college.

Snider earned a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in biology and his master’s degree from Central Michigan University.

After college, Snider found that success wasn’t always going to come easily. Following stints with several low-paying jobs, Snider made one of his first big strides as the owner and CEO of Paper-Plas Converting Inc., a supplier of packaging materials to the automotive industry. Most of his previous working experience came from owning five Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, so the leap to automotive supplier seemed like a stretch. Thanks to his work ethic, Snider made it happen.

“I work seven days a week and so does he,” said Cameron Farmer, operations manager for Walden Foods, a company created by Snider. “He’s the guy that will call you at 8 a.m. or at 1 a.m. I don’t know when he gets the time to sleep!”

In 1995, Chrysler was looking for a new supplier to provide paper and, as a long shot, Snider’s company received the job. Eventually, Paper-Plas became one of the fastest-growing, minority-owned paper-packaging companies in the United States.

But it became a victim of the recession when the economy crashed a few years ago. His company hung on until 2009 before shutting down. Soon, Snider was looking for new opportunities.

“The automotive industry was changing so I started looking for opportunities to get out,” said Snider. “That’s how I got into Papa John’s Pizza. But it could have been selling paperclips and walnuts. Anything with positive cash flow, I wanted to get into it.”

Snider realized selling pizza and working with food could be a good way to maximize profit — and he was right.

“I accomplished one goal already,” said Snider. “It just kind of came years ago. I reached accumulating a million dollars.”

And his employees are flour ishing with him.

“He’s one of those guys that does exactly what he says,” said Farmer. “You knew what was expected and what to give him, which makes things simple. I haven’t had a negative experience with him.”

At 57, Snider doesn’t have plans of giving it up anytime soon. He purchased his first Papa John’s Pizza franchise in downtown Ann Arbor in December 2009 and recently opened up another in Ypsilanti last August. The two are subsidiaries of Walden Foods, which oversees the operations of Washtenaw County Papa John’s restaurants and several coffee shops at Detroit Metro Airport.

“I knew in the Metro Detroit area it was highly competitive for pizzas, but I didn’t know it was this competitive to actually get in it,” said Snider. “I’m used to having a built-in customer like a Chrysler. In this business you have to market at all times. Even when I go to church on Sunday, I make sure I wear some type of Papa John’s logo.”

Snider opened up a new location in Ypsilanti because the downtown Ann Arbor location can have inconsistent sales. The new location has about 35,000 cars drive by each day.

“The Papa John’s downtown to me is so dependent on UM students,” said Snider. “I don’t like operating like that, because when winter break and summer break comes, it’s dead. Even though (the new location) is five minutes from Eastern Michigan, we don’t depend on Eastern.”

So what happens to a man whose business is dependent upon college students?

“I don’t rest well,” said Snider. “I don’t rest well if I’m not selling pizzas.”

Snider has three children, who all strive to be as successful their father. However, Snider doesn’t plan to expand his business any further until more family is involved in his operations.

Despite his success — or perhaps because of it — Snider has remained true to himself in order to reach his goals. Maintaining good credit is imperative to success, he said, offering a just a few words for college students looking to make their own entrepreneurial mark.

“What kids should do with their credit cards, being that they’re unsecured, instead of buying pizza, hamburgers and the latest jersey, they should have used the credit card to buy books and pay for tuition,” said Snider. “That way, at least your education is paid for. They can’t take that away from you.”

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