Taziki's Taps Jim Keet to Lead Franchise Expansion

Taziki's Taps Jim Keet to Lead Franchise Expansion
Brothers Tommy, left, and Jake Keet hope to open more than a dozen Taziki’s stores in Arkansas. (Michael Pirnique)

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe has picked Arkansan and restaurant industry veteran Jim Keet to helm the restaurant company and oversee its planned 100-store expansion.

Keet, 63, became managing partner and CEO of Taziki’s of Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 24. Keet will not relocate to the chain’s headquarters.

“What I’ve been asked to navigate into the future is the Taziki’s brand,” Keet said. His responsibilities include overseeing daily operations of the business while growing the company.

The goal of Taziki’s leadership is to add 100 locations to its current 20-restaurant chain within the next five years and continue expanding at a pace that results in a possible 500 Taziki’s restaurants within 10 years, Keet said.

“We’re developing a strong staff so we’re able to grow responsibly and have the right support staff to support that growth. We will not grow so quickly that we will outstrip our ability to support the growth with staff and resources,” Keet said.

Taziki’s ownership group includes founder Keith Richards, Mike Bodnar of Bodnar Group Consulting in Vestavia Hills, Ala., Keet and a handful of others.

Taziki’s is a fast-casual Greek food-inspired chain that started in 1998. It now has locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Taziki’s for Arkansas

Keet has been a Taziki’s franchisee since 2008, and he has decades of experience in the restaurant industry — including experience expanding restaurant chains.  

He began his after-college career in the restaurant and hospitality businesses in 1971. From 1975 to 1986, Keet worked with a company that developed 25 Wendy’s and two Sister’s Chicken & Biscuits restaurants in Arkansas and Texas with more than 1,200 employees.

He became chairman of regional restaurant chain Maxie’s of America Inc., headquartered in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1989 and led Maxie’s merger with Rally’s Inc. in 1991.  

From 1994 to 2000, Keet worked first as chairman and then as president for hotel licensing company GuestHouse International of Little Rock. From 2002 to 2004, Keet worked with Barnhill’s Buffet Inc. of Pensacola, Fla. At Barnhill’s, Keet served subsequently as vice chairman and then as president and CEO.  

Keet also served in the Arkansas House of Representatives and Arkansas State Senate. He was the Republican candidate for governor who challenged incumbent Mike Beebe in 2010.

Keet currently owns the three Taziki’s restaurants in Arkansas with his sons Tommy, 36, and Jake, 26. Two of the Keets’ Taziki’s are in Little Rock, and the third opened this month in Conway.

Keet was drawn to the Taziki’s concept because it offered “the best food, the best pricing, the best quality and is in an unexploited segment in the fast-casual cast, and that’s where we think the market will migrate,” he said.

The Keet trio, under company JTJ Restaurants LLC, also owns the Taziki’s Missouri franchise territory, where the family would like to expand after adding more Taziki’s stores in Arkansas.

When taking the position with Taziki’s corporate, Keet withdrew to a chairman position in JTJ and promoted Tommy to president and Jake to vice president.

“I love the fact that he’s the one managing the company because I know he’s going to do it right,” Tommy Keet said of his father.

While Taziki’s is sprouting new stores across the U.S. as part of its five-year plan, the Keets hope to open eight to 10 more locations across Arkansas.