John A. “Jack” Roschman, a co-founder of Ponderosa Steakhouse and the founder of the Rax Roast Beef chain, had strong connections to Dayton, Springfield and southwest Ohio during his fascinating life.
Rax restaurants returned to the news recently with an announcement of a new restaurant opening in Clark County, which is seen as a step in the rebirth of roast beef chain.
Roschman was born in Rockford, Illinois. He served as a sergeant in the Atomic Armaments Unit during the Korean War and graduated from University of Illinois with a Business Administration Degree. While at University of Illinois, he studied and developed frozen food technology for the ice cream industry.
As a teenager, Roschman helped his father sell equipment at the Chicago Restaurant show. It was at these shows that he met Ray Kroc, who would later become the founder of McDonald’s.
Upon graduating from college, Jack started his career as a salesman for Marathon Oil in Dayton, but he always wanted to be in the fast food business.
While working at Marathon Oil, Jack tried to get Ray Kroc to sell him the exclusive rights to operate McDonald’s in Ohio, but Jack was only 25 and Ray thought he was too young.
After Ray turned him down, Roschman worked with General Equipment to create what would become the Burger Chef restaurant chain.
He secured the exclusive right to develop Burger Chef Restaurants in the state of Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Western West Virginia. The first Burger Chef in Ohio was in Fairborn. At one time, there were 16 Burger Chefs in the Dayton area.
Ray Kroc later said: “Jack is the best fast food man in the world”
While he was developing Burger Chef restaurants in Ohio, he also founded a new chain which he named Jax Roast Beef, in Springfield. By 1969, Roschman had developed approximately 150 Burger Chefs.
He loved developing new ideas so he sold the Burger Chefs and the Jax Roast Beef chain to General Foods in 1968. Roschman continued to be involved in Jax Roast Beef, which changed its name to Rax in 1978, until the mid 1980s.
In a 1978 Dayton Daily News article, Roschman said, “To be successful in business, there’s one thing constant and that’s change. And if you don’t stay abreast of things, you’re going downhill.”
“You have to be willing to put money back into the business, you just can’t take, take, take. If I hoarded money, I’d be no good,” Roschman said. “If I stick money in a can, I might as well burn it; it’s worthless. Money is to be used; you create things with it - bricks and mortar. You create jobs.”
Roschman earned his pilot’s license and owned part of a plane before he was eligible for his driver’s license. After poor weather forced him to land in Kokomo, Indiana one day, he discovered the Ponderosa Steakhouse business that at the time had only three locations. He fell in love with Ponderosa, bought half of the company and moved its headquarters to Dayton. For a time, he served as Ponderosa’s Chairman of the Board.
According to a 1965 Dayton Daily News article, Roschman drove 50,000 miles a year visiting his stores, spending another 250 hours flying to others, even on weekends.
“Sometimes I plan to relax,” he once said, “but come Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, and I just got to go see a store.”
By the end of his career, he had been involved in the opening of over 2,000 restaurants in the United States.
Roschman’s success inspired his two sons, Jeff and Robert, to build and operate more than 200 restaurants, including Snapps Drive-Thru, which later became Rally’s and Checkers. They also were awarded the initial franchise rights to Papa John’s and developed over 150 locations before divesting their interest in the pizza chain.
Jack Roschman died on Thursday Feb 12, 2009, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, he was 80.