Born in Puerto Rico and raised most of his life in Saskatchewan, Canada, Tristan Koehler graduated from high school and found he didn’t have a plan for his life. One of his first jobs at the age of 18 was as a part-time delivery driver for Domino’s Pizza.
“I started out selling vacuums and didn’t like that at all,” Koehler said. “They were opening Domino’s stores in 1984 in Canada and I got hired on the spot.”
That year was one of incredible growth for Domino’s and Koehler said he was in “the right place at the right time.”
“They opened 1,000 stores that year,” he said. “I delivered pizzas for almost a year and they promoted me to making pizzas and the next thing I knew they were pushing me into management.”
From there Koehler, who has lived in Englewood since transferring to the Dayton area in 2001, was able to rise up the ranks and he became a general manager within two years.
“Management approached me and I thought I was still too young,” he said. “I became a GM when I was 20 years old.”
Koehler’s “American Dream,” began in earnest when he found out about an opportunity in Dayton with Domino’s and ended up moving to the United States.
“I guess I didn’t realize that I was an American citizen,” he said. “But it made things a lot easier for me and the move.”
Knowing nothing about Ohio, Koehler took a leap of faith and moved to Englewood in 2001, three days before the terrorist attack of 9/11. His wife and two children, all citizens of Canada, would eventually join him and become American citizens as well.
“My partner, Ed Schlater, and I worked for two Domino’s owners as operating partners and it was all ‘sweat equity,’ ” Koehler said. “They had 19 stores at the time and Ed and I were able to buy the stores in 2008.”
The partners bought the Richmond, Ind., store in 2011 and today own of 20 stores in the area.
Koehler chose Englewood for his family initially because he said it reminded him of home.
“Englewood has street lights just like Canada and it worked out far better than I thought because of the good schools,” he said.
As a Domino’s franchisee, Koehler is also a shareholder in the company. He followed the path of more than 90 percent of the company’s franchise owners, who learn to run and operate a store and supervise multiple stores before investing in one of their own.
“I have spent a lot of time in the stores,” Koehler said. “I still wear a uniform like everyone else and clean the back room and make pizzas. I even still deliver when I have to. I really enjoy getting out and working in the stores. It’s the best part of being an owner and really helps me learn more about the heart of the business.”
And Koehler is naturally a great “historian” of the pizza business and Domino’s in particular.
“Domino’s has been in business for more than 30 years,” he said. “The first Dayton store opened in 1974 and people have always had this preconception that we have really fast pizza that is just OK.”
Looking to change that notion, Domino’s reinvented itself in 2010 and started by totally revamping their pizza recipes.
“We started listening to our customers and reformulated everything, from the crust to the cheese to the sauce,” Koehler said. “We wanted to make a pizza that tasted fantastic.”
Since then Domino’s has not only reinvented their entire menu to include other items like pasta and chicken wings, but the company is also working on revamping its stores to make them more carry-out friendly. Domino’s has added write-on chalk boards and step-up production areas so customers may see their pizzas being made.
“We are trying to transform our stores and make them better,” Koehler said. “We just keep listening to customers and try to meet their needs.”
Though Koehler’s career path deviated entirely from those of his family – his father was a university professor and his mother and brother both have advanced college degrees – he has been successful and remains very satisfied in his career.
“I’m definitely the black sheep of the family,” he said. “But it’s a great business to be in and I’m thankful it worked out the way it did.”
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