Before I go, there’s one more story to tell.
It’s about a military guy who served his country for more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy, the last time at the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay, Ga.
As retirement loomed in 2006, Al Daniels approached his wife, the former Melaneise Wood of Newnan, whom he’d met in the Navy, with a rather strange proposal. Strange in that he and “Mel” had two children, 12 and 13 years old.
Her initial reaction was that of a normal wife and mother.
Think about it, he said.
About 2 a.m. on a Monday morn, he awoke. “I woke up in my sleep and said, ‘I am going to do it.’ ” He awoke Mel.
“Mel,” he recalls saying, “I’m donating my retirement to charity.”
After further conversation and on the promise that the family home would never be put at risk and they’d never go hungry, she agreed.
Her faith and future was thus vested in the post-retirement earnings potential of a man who had worked as a Domino’s pizza delivery man between high school and the military and part-time for a four-store franchise in the year before retirement.
Mel knew the man, though. Based on his military background and his attitude and enterprise while working part-time, Daniels was accepted in a minority-franchise program called “Delivering the Dream.” As an honorably discharged veteran, he qualified for a $20,000 reduction on the franchise fee, to $5,000.
In less than two years, on Dec. 19, 2007, Al Daniels had his first restaurant in Brunswick. Earlier this month, he closed on his fifth, with his franchises now spread over three coastal counties. He’s committed to opening 20 over a decade and would like to have 30.
One of those is in Waynesville, a town with 614 addresses that’s 23 miles inland from Brunswick and generally considered too small for a pizza franchise. Before opening there, he drove out on weekends, knocking on every door, asking residents whether they’d buy pizza. The store, he said, is profitable. “Somebody who has done that much research makes you believe his next venture will be successful,” says Brunswick banker Ron Adams, who help arrange financing.
He works hard, 14- to 16-hour days, and gives back. “I work all the time,” he said, “I am not a disconnected owner. I try to go every day to every store and if I can’t, I let them know. I don’t play a lot of games.”
Once, just after opening his first store, he overheard a young boy asking his mother for a pizza. We can’t afford it, Daniels recalls the woman telling her son.
Today you can, he told her. With that, he initiated a practice that applies daily to all five stores. Some family thought to be in need gets a large pizza and a bottle of soft drink free.
On the day before our lunch meeting at Brunswick’s famous Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon, the place I’d chosen for its pork chop sandwiches, Daniels had provided hamburgers and hot dogs and the trimmings for 4,000 people participating in a housing authority crime-prevention initiative for kids. It is part of his philosophy of giving back.
It would be hard to top, however, the decision he made to give over his retirement pay, about $2,300 per month, to cancer research organizations in memory of his father, Alkina Daniels of Portsmouth, Va., who died of cancer in 2002.
“I didn’t join the military for retirement,” said Daniels. “I joined the military because I wanted to serve my country.”
In tribute to his wife, who consented to that decision with a positive response to the question “Do you believe in me?” he incorporated as “Mel’s Pizza” doing business as Domino’s.