Hollywood is many things to many people. Just say the word and instantly you’re brought back to the old glamour, thrust into a cutthroat business many have deemed “plastic” or fake” or dropped into an industry that produces pure magic.
But take a closer look at the suburban pockets interspersed between the show business, the stars and the entertainment, and you’ll find the people that are making a name for themselves in vastly different ways, including the faces of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, Ashley Morris (UNLV, ’97) and Jason Smylie (UNLV, ’02).
As kids, Morris and Smylie lived a few blocks from each other in Hollywood. Morris was several years older than Smylie, but they always seemed to run in the same crowds and continued to run into each other.
Coincidentally, the friends would find themselves a few blocks from each other again in Las Vegas. From there, Morris and Smylie only became closer, deciding to follow each other once again to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Morris was the first of the pair to join Lambda Chi Alpha. Because of the unbreakable friendship the two had formed, it was only natural that Smylie would follow in his friend’s footsteps. It was the beginning of a bond that would connect the two men in an even deeper way
“I really think I squeezed out every last bit [from the fraternity experience],” said Smylie. “From social experiences, to developing lifelong friendships, I was developing a network of acquaintances, people I keep in touch with that I can still pick up the phone and lean on for advice…and leadership development and taking on officer opportunities and stretching what I believed I could do, personally in terms of my own growth.”
Smylie and Morris developed not only as people but started to build the foundation for the successful businessmen they would grow to be.
“I think what was really beneficial in terms of understanding that what we were doing was ultimately providing value back to people,” said Smylie. “We were creating an experience, [in Lambda Chi Alpha] creating fun, improving the brand and ultimately creating a great experience.
“That directly translates to what we do at Capriotti’s, we are trying to create an experience for our guests. We’re not selling sandwiches per se, but we are selling an experience of having great food and a great customer experience.”
The experience piece of being Brothers of Lambda Chi Alpha is something that has stuck with both Smylie and Morris as they have built the Capriotti’s business into what it is today.
But as with any successful business, Capriotti’s began with very humble beginnings.
Smylie remembers his first Capriotti’s sandwich experience like it was yesterday.
Back in the late 90s/early 2000s, Capriotti’s was a simple Mom and Pop shop that specialized in a few sandwiches. Smylie ordered the Bobbie, Thanksgiving in sandwich form. His world was rocked.
Smylie raced back to the apartment he shared with Morris, raving about this life-changing sandwich. At first Morris was skeptical, because after all, it was JUST a sandwich.
But after much convincing from Smylie, Morris experienced his first Capriotti’s sandwich and instantly became a fan.
The two friends loved the sandwiches so much that they broke their lease to move closer to their beloved sandwich shop.
But life moved on around Smylie and Morris and their shared love of Capriotti’s sandwiches.
Following graduation at UNLV, Smylie started his tech career as a software engineer and IT project manager for a large government contractor, while Morris managed a large portfolio for Wells Fargo.
Smylie and Morris were making strides in their individual careers, but they couldn’t help but come back to an idea they had for most of their undergraduate career: starting a business venture together.
Over their sandwiches, at Capriotti’s they would discuss the reality of the dream and how they could act upon it.
During one of their frequent visits to the shop, they asked the franchisee about her experience as a franchise owner and she talked about how well she was doing. The friends had never thought of that avenue before, but they quickly decided together this could be the opportunity they were searching for.
From that decision, Smylie and Morris leveraged themselves to the owners of Capriotti’s to open their very own franchise of the store. The first store the pair opened was in Henderson, Nevada.
After the taste of success, Smylie and Morris wanted more. They saw that the ROI with their three locations was far better than what their respective careers could produce. It was time for them to take this venture seriously.
Smylie and Morris wanted to take Capriotti’s to the next level by opening locations in more populated areas, such as Phoenix and Reno. When they came to the owners with their proposal, they found
that they were not in the position to aggressively expand as Smylie and Morris wanted to do. But it was also clear that with no next of kin, the owners were at a standstill. An offer was made and in 2008, Morris and Smylie acquired the Capriotti’s brand.
Now, 20 years later, Smylie and Morris are still as close as ever and are on their way to creating a billion-dollar company. But the everyday grind has also been a challenge that the pair has to work through every day.
“It’s taken decades to get to where we are today, and we are just hitting our stride,” said Smylie. “Everything that is worthwhile tends to be hard, and the lessons that were taught to me in Initiation, specifically ‘Naught without Labor’, are important reminders.”
To this day, the lessons and morals that Lambda Chi Alpha helps instill in its Members still run deep in both Smylie and Morris to help guide them forward in the fast-paced world of their business.
For one, the loyalty and deep connections formed through the Lambda Chi Alpha experience are major factors in sustaining a people- based business.
“Greek Life creates a platform to make lifelong friends that you will take with you after college,” said Morris. “In addition, it provides a network of people that you have something in common with which usually translates into a level of loyalty and trust that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t have a Zeta number.”
The leadership experience that both men acquired from their undergraduate years has also played a part in the business being recognized nationally by USA Today, the Washington Post and many other prestigious publications.
As the business continues to thrive, the mutual passion and drive that Morris and Smylie share are what keep them ahead of the game.
“Being passionate about what you do means you have the perseverance, the grit and the willingness to overcome whatever challenge is going to come your way, because it’s worthwhile,” said Smylie.
Likewise, the hard work that the friends put into Capriotti’s has allowed for innovation and success that only seemed like a dream when they first started the venture.
To Brothers from across the Fraternity, the pair urge Members to go out and find the same passion they feel for Lambda Chi Alpha in their professional careers. You never know what kind of opportunity you might find from going after something you are passionate about, such as the shared love of a sandwich.
“Outwork everyone, period,” said Morris. “If you are the hardest worker in your field, you will stand out and be an overachiever.”