Tyoka’s professional life has always been about growing, evolving and creating change. For 12 years he did it in the NFL. Now he’s doing it with his businesses in Washington, DC.
Shortly after starting signing with the Miami Dolphins in 1994 as an undrafted rookie free agent, Jackson realized that his NFL career could be day-to-day and he needed to lay a foundation for his future outside of football.
“It hit me really quickly when I wasn’t drafted,” Jackson recalled. “That hit me right then and there; that’s reality. I thought I was going to be drafted. From the day I entered the league, I was preparing to leave. I was released. I was put on practice squads. [I realized] they don’t need me at all and any minute they could say, ‘Go get your play book.’”
Jackson, who grew up in the Washington D.C. suburb of Forestville, MD and graduated from Penn State University, subsequently played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, but all the while he was also running The Jackson Investment Group, which he founded in 1995. The company focused mostly on real estate ventures with his father handling many projects alongside him. Then one day while driving through the eighth ward of Washington D.C. Jackson saw an empty storefront and an idea was born.
The eighth ward had, for many years, been a community dealing with a serious social and economic downturn. Jackson’s father was raised there. Over the years, the ward had become what Jackson described as, “an open-air drug market.” However, in recent years, there was a shift and the neighborhood had started to emerge from this dark period.
That day in the eighth ward, Jackson pulled over and called his brother, at that time a lieutenant with Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan police department. They brainstormed right there on the curb and came up with an idea that they thought would be beneficial for both the family business and the community, an International House of Pancakes, or as it’s known to most, IHOP.
As surprising as it may seem, there were no IHOPs within the boundaries of the nation’s capitol. But, it was a brand the Jackson family knew well growing up and it was a brand that Jackson thought was a perfect fit for the eighth ward.
“It’s a brand we grew up enjoying,” Jackson said. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner all day long. It was always a treat for us to go to IHOP.”
Even better, it turned out that launching a franchise was a piece of cake. “I went home, looked up their website, hit the franchising tab and there was [D.C.] at the top of the list of areas they wanted to develop.”
The first of Jackson’s restaurants opened in 2012 becoming the first sit-down franchise in the eighth ward. They discovered that it was the first time residents were able to walk down the street in their own neighborhood, sit down and dine in a restaurant of any kind.
In addition, 80 percent of their employees are residents of the eighth ward (90 percent are residents of the District overall) so they are helping the local economy in multiple ways. Jackson’s IHOPs also have one unique feature that sets them apart; they have a dress code, which was insisted upon by Jackson’s father - no pants hanging so low that they allow underwear to show and no men’s tank undershirts. There was some initial pushback from some of their younger patrons, but ultimately, they prevailed and their customers now willingly abide by the dress code.
Jackson and his family are extremely proud of their contribution to the community and their involvement in helping develop a new economic reality for the neighborhood.
“It was a thrill for us to be the first family to bring the iconic brand to the capitol,” he said.
He also tries not to be his own best customer. “My biggest challenge is making sure I don’t enjoy too much of it,” he said laughing. “I have a self-imposed limit on the number of pancakes I consume. I allow myself one day [every few months] where I pig out on pancakes, crepes and waffles. But, we’ve got salads. We’ve got sugar free syrup. We’ve got whole wheat.”
Jackson now has two IHOP franchises with an eye to expanding further. He is a fairly frequent presence in both locations, but it’s a juggling act. With his family in Florida and with a burgeoning broadcast career working for the Big 10 Network, which is based in Chicago, he travels constantly and has to ensure that everyone and everything gets the appropriate attention.
So, how does he find time to fit everything in? “Once you set your priorities then everything comes after that,” he said. “Spending time with my kids is at the top of the list. I’m a huge family guy. After you set that as a top you find ways to wiggle around and get other stuff involved.”