AP NEWS

Male Entrepreneur of the Year: Need for work leads to Wendy’s company ownership

April 6, 2019

Almost 40 years ago, Mike Allegro had a young family, including three children to support, but not the means to accomplish the task.

So, he made contact with a friend who was working in human resources for the Wendy’s restaurant chain. It was a fortuitous call that changed Allegro’s life and the local restaurant landscape, and its impact can be felt to this very day.

“I came to Wendy’s in 1982 because I needed a job,’’ he said. Allegro had worked in manufacturing, a job he ultimately found unfulfilling, and was back in search mode when the opportunity opened.

He was trained for the Wendy’s work and caught on quickly, soon rising to the rank of manager. By 1988, he was a franchisee and a store owner.

Now, three decades later, Allegro owns 37 Wendy’s stores, including locations in Kankakee County, the south Chicago suburbs and the Champaign area. His eateries in Bradley, Bourbonnais, Kankakee and Manteno are quite familiar with area consumers.

As he looks back at the time that has passed since that initial contact, he can’t help but marvel at where the path has taken him, his combined 1,100 employees and All-Star Management Inc., the firm Allegro formed to oversee his business holdings.

“It’s been hard work, but knowing where we started from, it’s a great story,’’ Allegro said.

It’s also a story worthy of recognition, and it’s why Allegro has been named the Male Entrepreneur of the Year as part of the annual Daily Journal Progress Awards.

Entrepreneur is defined as “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise,’’ and that accurately describes Allegro. When he decided to make the jump from manager to franchisee, he did so with virtually no collateral to accomplish the transition.

But some seed money was secured through insurance money obtained by the untimely death of Allegro’s niece, Amy Allegro. He then next turned to the banks in search of a loan to grow his fledgling business.

“It’s not easy, especially when you don’t have anything,’’ he said. “Twenty-two banks slammed their doors.’’

But finally a sympathetic lender emerged. The money allowed Allegro to pursue his goal, and success followed. The loan has been paid off for many years now.

The group of 37 stores he owns includes 12 he built from the ground up. Another 14 existing stores were bought in 2016.

Now, Allegro is going about the task of updating these facilities. He said 52 percent have been recently remodeled, and the goal is to have all remodeled by 2025.

The venture has become a family affair, too, as Allegro’s son, Tony, runs a group of these restaurants. At 64, Allegro admits his career is winding toward an eventual end, but he is not resting on his laurels.

“We’re growing; we’re expanding at a rapid pace,’’ he said.

The commitment to his business keeps Allegro constantly busy, yet, he still has found time to do significant philanthropic work in the community.

Much of those efforts have gone toward supporting the local Easter Seals organization. Easter Seals, along with the initiative to support childhood adoption efforts started by Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, are Allegro’s main causes.

“I got started with Easter Seals in 1990 because I needed to network,’’ Allegro said. “I needed to meet people, and it took my heart. It made me realize I was put on Earth to help other people.’’

Easter Seals aids individuals with disabilities and special needs. The Joliet Region of the organization also serves Kankakee County, and its next Celebration of Giving Regional Telethon is set from noon to 8 p.m. April 13 at the Jacob Henry Mansion’s Victorian Ballroom in Joliet. Wendy’s and All-Star Management are a title sponsor for the event.

The Daily Journal is not the first entity to recognize Allegro’s accomplishments. He received the Founders Award from Wendy’s in 2008 and was named to the Wendy’s Hall of Fame in 2014.

These are high honors which Allegro deeply appreciates. But he is not about to claim them as singular awards.

“I’ve got awesome people,’’ he said. “This isn’t just me.’’