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How a Pizza Factory Franchisee Went From Owning 5 Locations to Becoming the Brand’s CEO

As the CEO of Pizza Factory, Mary Jane Riva applies her 30-plus years of experience to grow the company while inspiring her executive team and the franchisees.

Mary Jane Riva has always been an entrepreneur at heart. So it’s no surprise that she worked her way to CEO of the fast-growing pizza franchise Pizza Factory. But how did Riva turn an entrepreneurial spirit and a part-time job in a pastry shop into her full-time career?

Thirty years before buying Pizza Factory, Riva’s career started in a small donut restaurant in high school. After graduating, Riva got married and began her job search in a familiar field: donut shops again. According to an article by On Point, she was only working at the latter donut shop for one month before the owner offered to sell the store to her. At the age of 20, Riva owned her first business. 

Working at this donut shop wasn’t easy for the young newlywed. Riva arrived at 11:00 p.m. to prepare and bake donuts for the next day. While the world was waking up, Riva would travel home to sleep throughout the day so she could prepare for a long night’s work ahead. But all of her efforts paid off. In three years, she tripled her investment and was ready to move on. 

After selling her donut shop, Riva was ready for her next big challenge. That’s when her sister introduced her to Pizza Factory. In 1988, Riva and her husband signed up for their first franchise location with the brand. They were operating in Murrieta by 1990, though opening the store wasn’t as easy as the couple thought it would be.

“When you become a franchisee, you come into it with misconceptions,” said Riva in the On Point article. “We all think we’re going to have the store that will be successful from day one, or we wouldn't do it. We’re all a little naive about what goes into it 24/7. Even when you go home for the night, your phone is still on because there are employees still at the store. You’re just always on.”

After only two years with the brand, Riva and the rest of the country faced a recession. Riva and her husband began questioning their decision to buy a franchise in the first place. But the pair supported each other, making hard decisions such as selling their house to downsize. The couple used the money from downsizing homes to buy other locations. That led Riva to co-own five Pizza Factory locations by 2012.

“Everyone goes through challenges like we did,” said Riva to On Point. “It’s very rare to have a smooth ‘sunshine and roses’ experience [when owning your own business].” 

After over two decades of franchise ownership with Pizza Factory, Riva was asked by the owners at the time to purchase the brand. The brand had around 110 locations, according to Riva in an interview with Franchise Times. Excited for a new challenge within the industry she loved, she took the opportunity to purchase Pizza Factory.

She and her husband sold their individual franchise locations to the managers operating them, and Riva began brainstorming ways to expand her new company. First, Riva created a plan for a marketing portal, online ordering and unified POS system. Then, she hired an advertising agency and public relations company to make Pizza Factory competitive within the industry.

“Coming into this, I just had to earn their trust,” said Riva in Franchise Times. “I can’t demand it or expect it. That was my big thing. Show the vision I had for the company moving forward to communicate that and show them why we were doing what we were doing and earn their trust,” 

Since buying the brand in 2012, Pizza Factory has grown under Riva’s leadership. Riva confirms that Pizza Factory signed 24 new franchise agreements in 2021. Her passion and leadership skills can be attributed to over three decades of experience in the restaurant industry. Riva continues to see a bright future with the brand and looks forward to every challenge her role as CEO of Pizza Factory brings her way. She encourages other leaders and entrepreneurs to follow their instincts and to be bold in voicing their opinions.

“In the end, being bold and voicing your opinion on important matters can be an effective way to strengthen your brand and open the door for a deeper, emotional connection with your customers,” said Riva in Franchise Wire. “As leaders, we have an undeniable, powerful opportunity to make a difference through our words and actions—so make sure you’re standing for something.”