Max Montoya recalls bonding over Philly cheesesteaks and fresh cut fries after practice with his Cincinnati Bengals teammates from a sandwich shop that had opened near their Ohio training facility.
"We would always send the kickers out to get our lunch," Mr. Montoya said with a laugh. "They don't do anything anyways except kick the ball."
Mr. Montoya went from eating cheesesteaks to owning six franchises of Penn Station East Coast Subs that made those delicious sandwiches.
After a 16-year NFL career with the Bengals and Oakland Raiders in which Mr. Montoya played in two Super Bowls and elected All-Pro four times, he's gone in a different direction from protecting the quarterback on the offensive line.
In an era where overspending, financial mismanagement and self-indulgence have become the norm among professional athletes, Mr. Montoya's post-football career has steered clear of those issues. Instead he's a successful entrepreneur with six restaurants, not far from where he spent his glory days with the Bengals.
It began with some advice from Paul Brown, co-founder of the Bengals, while Montoya played on some of the best teams in the franchise's history during the 1980s that was led by quarterback Boomer Esiason.
"(Mr. Brown) would always say use the NFL as a steppingstone because you're not going to play forever," Mr. Montoya told HispanicBusiness.com.
Life after football
Mr. Montoya cooked up his first business venture as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. He saw potential in a small Mexican restaurant in downtown Cincinnati that had just four tables for customers, helping the restaurant to grow and expand into Kentucky. It was there that Mr. Montoya developed the business acumen that eased his transition to life after professional football.
When Mr. Montoya moved to the West Coast to play for the Raiders, he sold his share of the Mexican food restaurant and did not go back into the restaurant business until after his retirement in 1994.
Much like how Mr. Montoya was an up-and-comer in the restaurant business, Penn Station was beginning to lay the ground work for its own success. Penn Station now has more than 200 stores, but when Mr. Montoya signed on, his first franchise was only the 26th location.
"Back in the early days the founder's brother probably had three stores, a friend had a couple two or three stores," Mr. Montoya said. "So we were very small."
The young company provided Mr. Montoya the perfect opportunity. He adapted quickly to Penn Station's family oriented atmosphere and learned quickly that his favorite part was interacting with customers on a day-to-day basis.
"It just turned out that Penn Station was probably the best fit for me," he said.
Although Mr. Montoya earned millions in his playing career, he still views himself as a small-business owner. And owning a small business, he's not immune to the headaches that come with being the one in charge.
Recently two managers left, forcing him to scramble for replacements and requiring Mr. Montoya to spend some time working behind the counter. He employs roughly 80 workers for his six locations, most are part-time.
Sometimes, he admits, the toughest part of the job is just finding people to work. It's a big change from his old job of chasing down tacklers.
Mr. Montoya resides in Cincinnati near the Ohio River and remains close to the Bengals organization. The team invites him to speak each year to the rookie football players, where he counsels them on financial responsibility. He echoes some of the same sentiment he received when he was a player: Save money, invest wisely and prepare yourself as you're playing a football game.
When business meets football things tend to get ugly. For Mr. Montoya, however, the two have become inseparable.
"I apply those principles that I learned playing football and I apply it to the business world," he said. "I want to work at it as hard as you can to make it a success."
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