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Doing It His Way: Mike Simmonds

The Man Who Would Be King

Laurie and Charles Photographs

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Biting into a hamburger doesn’t change the trajectory of most people’s lives. But it did for Mike Simmonds.

This first time Simmonds had a Burger King Whopper, he thought it was the best hamburger he had ever tasted. Just one bite cemented Simmonds’s career path. That was back in 1969 when he then sought part-time employment at a Burger King in Alabama where he attended college. “I worked twenty hours a week for a buck ninety an hour as an assistant manager trainee,” Simmonds recalls.

It was an inauspicious beginning of a life-long career with Burger King that would see Simmonds buying Nebraska’s first franchise in the fast food chain and continue to eventually build or acquire 73 Burger Kings, eight Taco Johns, and 10 Jimmy Johns, as well as a restaurant maintenance company.

Simmonds was not a restaurant rookie when he launched his career with Burger King. During his California high school years, he was a dishwasher, and bus boy; he put himself through college as a short order cook at Denny’s working the 11pm to 7am shift. Simmonds was stationed in Alabama after the U.S. government interrupted college and work with the draft. There he met his wife Lin and remained after his tour of duty to attend the University of Alabama.

After graduating, Simmonds approached Burger King Headquarters to purchase his own franchise. Corporate told him only two areas were available for purchase at that time; one in West Virginia, the other in Fremont, NE. Simmonds had never been to the Midwest before he landed at Omaha’s Epply Airfield in 1976. “Fremont seemed like a nice town, and it was a good location for the Burger King,” Simmonds acknowledged.

So, that spring, he left the Deep South and moved to the Great Plains, leaving his wife and two children in Alabama until he could get established: “I lived out of a suitcase and worked 24/7.”

But it paid off. His wife and children joined him later that fall, and within three years, Simmonds expanded his restaurant ownership to four Burger King locations in Council Bluffs, Omaha and Columbus, NE. He built additional restaurants or purchased existing franchises from owners looking to sell. He even bought eleven Hardees restaurants and converted them into Burger Kings.

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