25 years ago, Domino’s started here


They met three decades ago as fraternity brothers in Mississippi, two compadres who would grow up to run one of the biggest, most profitable Dominos Pizza franchises in history.

Right here in Alexandria, on Duke Street on the West End.

Frank Meeks and David Carraway were more than best friends. In the deep South of the late 70s, they shared classes at the University of Southern Mississippi, and at night, with the cicadas chirping outside their window, they drank beer out of long-neck bottles andswapped dreams of brotherly entrepreneurship.

To make an extra buck for beer and books, both delivered pizzas for a fledgling company called Domino’s , which at the time only serviced a handful of college campuses nationwide.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Meeks earned a degree in political science and English from Southern Mississippi, with the goal of attending law school. To help defray the cost of his degree, he began delivering for Dominos in 1979. Not long after, he became a store manager, and decided that pizzas, not law school, were in his future.

A year later, Meeks left Mississippi to work as an aide to Senator Trent Lott, then a member of Congress. During his time on the Hill, Meeks helped open Dominos locations in Northern Virginia.

The idea of starting his own Domino’s franchise to service the powerful, burn-the-midnightoil staffs on the Hill and K Street corridor intrigued him, but Domino’s corporate did not believe its model would work outside college towns plus 17 banks turned Meeks down for start-up capital.

When Frank approached Domino’s about building the first store not centered around a college campus, he was laughed at, said Robert Donner, a longtime friend and the regional operations manager of Team Washington. Every bank turned him down, so he turned to his friends.

Meeks eventually did cobble together the seed money from friends, family and other business partners, and in 1983 he was awarded franchise rights for Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District.

On May 15, 1983, the 26-year-old opened the doors to the first Domino’s in the Washington area, at 5418 Duke Street near Landmark Mall, in the rundown shell of a former Highs Dairy Store.

Carraway soon joined his fraternity brother as partner, and with pluck and perseverance the two became the backbone of Team Washington, a 58-store pizza-making goliath which last year booked revenues of $62 million. The Duke Street location alone makes 90,000 pizzas per year, ranking it one of the top locations in the DC area, Donner said.

If Meeks was the driving force behind Domino’s spectacular growth in the DC area, Carraway was known as its can-do guy. Meeks, an indefatigable runner who lived in Mount Vernon, was famous for leading his army of pizza delivery managers in spirited Monday morning runs down the George Washington Parkway. Frank was all hustle and bustle, Donner recalled.

Team Washington became one of the most successful franchises in Dominos Pizza history, driven by Meeks enthusiasm, competitive nature and get it done attitude. It was not uncommon for Meeks to have his store managers compete in a 10-kilometer foot race before the start of manager meetings, and his competitive nature led him to offer extra incentives to any Team Washington team member who won the companys Fastest Pizza Maker Competition.

Frank pioneered pizza delivery in our nations capitol, delivering Dominos pizza to the White House under five different U.S. presidents, Dominos CEO David Brandon said at the time. He was so well-known, he was once featured as a question on the game show, Hollywood Squares.

Meeks was quick to a competitive challenge, whether it be a sprint to the finish or a race of wills to see who could build a pizza the fastest. Meeks nearly always won, but one Alexandria employee, an Afghan immigrant named Waheed Asim put even Meeks to the test, capturing the title of Worlds Fastest Pizza Maker seven years running, from 1987-2004.

These days, Waheed is an entrepreneur living in Kingstowne, while his brother Farid Asim, this month celebrates 23 years at the Duke Street location. Frank was always promoting the idea of hustle, Farid Asim said on Monday. If someone beat him in the time it makes a pizza, he would give them $200 from his pocket.

He would remember the birthdays of his most productive employees, sending them checks for $100. He rewarded others with gas cards or Air Jordan sneakers — anything to keep the pizzas moving off the production line. He took care of everybody, Asim recalls. He put in health insurance for everybody here and would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.

Meeks died in 2004 after a longtime illness. He was 48. A Domino’s franchisee for a quarter of a century, he opened and operated 60 successful stores, and was responsible for sponsoring 30 team members into the ranks of its franchisees. Under Franks leadership, Team Washington became synonymous with high energy, teamwork and phenomenal results, Brandon said. He made an indelible mark on all of us.

Meeks was active in the Alexandria community, donating hundreds of pizzas every year to Childrens Hospital, the March of Dimes and the Washington Animal Rescue League, a tradition which continues. In 2003, the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce named Meeks Citizen of the Year.

It stands to reason that one of the great franchises in the history of Dominos had more than one great driving force. When the legendary Meeks was among the initial inductees into the Chairmans Circle Hall of Fame in 2001, Meeks recognized his right-hand man as Carraway.

When Meeks stepped away from the business in 2003 to battle his illness, he named Carraway, his long-time operations director, the president of Team Washington, and watched his franchise continue to flourish.

David was a guy who was a real force and inspiration in this business for a long time, Brandon said. For 20 years he was the operational leader behind one of the most high energy and accomplished teams in the history of our company.

Carraway, who lived in McLean with his wife and four children, died last year of a brain tumor. His widow, MaryLynne, now runs Team Washington. David was a fighter and he cared deeply about everybody, Brandon said. He was also a man of unbending integrity, a committed family man, a competitor, and a gentleman.

Added Donner, You can still feel their presence in our office and in our stores … Frank and David set into motion a lot of core values which are still with us.