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Taziki’s Jim Keet Has New Role, Family Focus

4 min read

After almost four years as CEO of Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, based in Birmingham, Alabama, Little Rock restaurateur Jim Keet was ready to give up his almost constant travel to “spend more time with family and build restaurants with the boys.”

Those boys are sons Tommy, 40, and Jake, 31; Tommy is president of JTJ Restaurants LLC, the Keets’ restaurant company, and Jake is vice president of operations. Jim Keet is chairman of the family business; Stephanie Keet, Jake’s wife, is marketing director; and Susannah Keet, recently wed to Tommy, is director of administration. For Jim Keet, spending more time with family isn’t code for abandoning the business world.

When Jim Keet became CEO of Taziki’s in September 2012, he told Arkansas Business that his goal was to “navigate into the future” the Taziki’s brand. He oversaw daily operations of the business while expanding the company, founded in 1998 by Keith and Amy Richards.

“I tripled the size of the company in three and a half years,” Keet said of his time leading the fast-casual chain with a Greek food-inspired menu. Taziki’s had 20 restaurants when Keet took the helm and, according to its website and Keet, is on track to have almost 80 locations open in 16 states by the first of the year. The chain is among the fastest-growing in the country, according to RestaurantNews.com.

“It was a great experience, but in 44 months I was on the road all but five weeks,” he said. “So I am just delighted to be back here building restaurants with my sons and working with my sweet daughters-in-law.”

Keet remains a minority stockholder in the Taziki’s chain parent company. His JTJ Restaurants owns six Taziki’s in Arkansas and is building a seventh at the Gateway Town Center at the intersection of Interstates 30 and 430. Keet, in fact, was an owner of the Town Center property — with developer Tommy Hodges and two others — and is still a “small owner” of it. “We’re excited to be going out there on property that we used to own all of,” Keet said.

The Keets and partner Mike Pierce also are working on opening a second Taziki’s in Tulsa.

The Keets’ restaurant enterprises employ about 150 people in Arkansas and 30 in Oklahoma, and with the opening of the new Taziki’s locations in Little Rock and Tulsa, that number will rise to 180 in Arkansas and about 65 in Oklahoma.

The Keets hope to build 10 to 15 Taziki’s in Oklahoma with their eyes on Oklahoma City, Edmond, Norman and surrounding areas, Jim Keet said.

They also want to further expand in Arkansas, he said, and have been scouting sites for the last 18 months.

“We’re taking a very methodical approach toward our development,” he said. “We want all of our sites to be excellent.” They hope to build one or two yearly in Arkansas for the next several years, Keet said.

JTJ had revenue “well in excess of $10 million” in 2015, he said.

The family, he said, has been instrumental in the development of the Taziki’s brand, which had only three stores when they became involved as the first franchisee.

“The whole idea was for us to bring our expertise to the whole enterprise and to help develop the concept,” he said. “Tommy and Jake and Stephanie have added a lot to the success of corporate.”

In addition, the family, with partner Barkley Boyd, owns the I Love Juice Bar in Little Rock’s Midtown Shopping Center, which opened a year ago. I Love Juice Bar is a franchise based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Keet described I Love Juice Bar as a health-conscious concept — “everything’s natural, no preservatives, no sugar added, no ice. It’s all natural fruits and vegetables.” More I Love Juice Bars are a possibility.

Finally, Keet is joining with fellow restaurant industry veteran Louis Petit in Petit & Keet Bar & Grill in the former 1620 Savoy space at 1620 Market St., announced a couple of weeks ago. Petit founded Café Prego in the Heights but now works with his sons on the Florida Gulf Coast in the restaurants Louis Louis in Santa Rosa Beach and The Red Bar in Grayton Beach.

Petit’s restaurant experience in Little Rock goes back to the days of the legendary Jacques & Suzanne. Keet also is a veteran of the industry, having worked with the late Jerry Hamra to develop the Wendy’s of Little Rock franchise.

As for JTJ and his other ventures, Keet said he’s glad to be able to devote more time to the family business: “I am so delighted to be home.”

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