Friends and business partners Chris Britt and Ed St. Geme discuss the success of their franchises, Mountain Mike’s Pizza and Juice It Up!, and life in Newport Beach.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Chris Britt and Ed St. Geme, co-CEOs and owners of Mountain Mike’s Pizza, and co-chairmen and owners of the Juice It Up! franchises, share a love of Newport Beach and the franchise concepts they’ve acquired and built up. The pair met while attending Stanford University and, after acquiring Mountain Mike’s Pizza in 2017 and Juice It Up! in 2018, they moved the concepts’ headquarters to Newport Beach and have continued an impressive road to high sales numbers and exceptional unit growth.
California natives, both men graduated from Stanford and went on to work in the investment field. That financial experience has helped these friends and business partners eventually grow their franchises, all from their longtime home base of Newport Beach. Britt has lived in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach for more than three decades while St. Geme has been a Newport resident for more than 20 years.
Newport Beach Magazine: How did your friendship turn into a business relationship?
Chris Britt: It was close to 20 years after we graduated Stanford, after we had each built successful but separate investment careers. In the early 2000s, when we were both in Newport Beach, we both had an investment interest and thesis around acquiring distressed Burger King franchises during one of their troubled periods as a brand. Ultimately, in 2004, we partnered together in acquiring 32 Burger King franchises out of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
NBM: What later attracted you to the Mountain Mike’s and Juice It Up! franchises?
Ed St. Geme: We knew about Mountain Mike’s Pizza because the very first location was opened in Palo Alto on the very edge of the Stanford campus. It opened in 1978, and we remembered going there as students. So, when we heard the chain was for sale in late 2015, we … jumped on the opportunity to learn more and, boy, were we pleasantly surprised.
CB: The story is similar for Juice It Up!—growing up in So Cal, I’ve been a fan of the brand since its inception in 1995. In fact, my longtime partner at Marwit Capital, Matt Witte—a truly great person and partner for 25 years pre-MMP and JIU—and I actually met with the founders of the JIU business and the man that turned out to be the longtime owner of the brand prior to us, Frank Easterbrook. … When Frank decided to retire and transition the brand in 2017—20 years later—we naturally thought of each other, met to talk about it and the rest is history.
NBM: When did you acquire Mountain Mike’s?
ESG: [In] April 2017. … We just celebrated our five-year anniversary as owners. We have 254 locations today. … We expect to open an additional 21 or so in 2022 for a total of 30 new locations … [this] year, which would put us at around 275 locations by year end. The most significant part of our current development is that we are opening our first stores in five new states this year—Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Texas—while opening second, third and fourth stores in Oregon and Utah, to complement our very large presence in California.
NBM: When did you acquire Juice It Up!?
CB: February 2018, so we just celebrated our four-year anniversary as owners. We have 83 locations open today. … The goal, which I am very confident we will reach, is to grow to at least 200 locations over the next four years. With the leadership team we now have at JIU—like MMP—it’s an all-star team I’d put up against any brand in franchise food.
NBM: Why did you choose these franchise concepts for ownership?
CB: With food franchises, it always starts with the food itself, and there is no pizza like Mountain Mike’s Pizza. … When you combine that with some of the best and long-term franchisees in all of franchise food, and an all-star team we have built to lead the brand in our global Franchise Support Center (FSC) in Newport Beach—how can we lose?
ESG: [For Juice It Up!,] it’s really the same vision we had for MMP—incredible products, the best in the sector, underscored in this case by real food science that has always been able to combine nutritional functionality with mouthwatering flavor, passionate and long-term franchisees itching for profitable growth, and a guest community that continues to grow its thirst for healthy foods that are convenient and affordable.
NBM: Why did you choose to move the headquarters for these brands to Newport Beach?
CB: The easy answer, of course, is that Ed and I and our families live in Newport Beach. … Newport Beach— and Orange County in general—is a hotbed for restaurant talent, and talent is what drives success in the restaurant business. … Honestly, there is no better place to be for building out world-class restaurant and franchise management teams.
NBM: What do you like about living here in Newport Beach?
CB: The climate, the beaches, the restaurants. The exciting and interesting places to go within an hour’s drive. And the clubs—Ed and I and our families are both very blessed to be members of the Newport Beach Country Club (it’s literally a 9-iron away from our Newport Beach headquarters for both brands), and my family and I are further blessed to also be members of the Balboa Bay Club. We also have some fabulous schools here, including Newport Coast Child Development Preschool and Our Lady Queen of Angels [Catholic School], which all three of our girls attended.
ESG: Echoing what Chris said, and also specifically calling out Andersen Elementary School and Corona del Mar High School where our six children all attended. … Excellent experiences for all of them due to wonderful teachers, coaches, administrators. … My wife and I—and our young children at the time we moved—loved the Palo Alto area, but we’ve often called our move to Newport Beach a home-run decision.