Dustin Keller is extremely talented and extremely confident. By talented, we don't mean limited to football. And by confident, we mean for example that the Jets' third-year tight end has chosen to concentrate on a sector of the economy that's been known to gobble up profits and spit out investors.
Restaurants. Keller owns six.
"McAlister's Delis," Keller said proudly of the franchise restaurants popular in the South and reaching into the West, the Midwest and even the Northeast. "I have three in Myrtle Beach and three in Charleston. We serve a lot of sandwiches. My favorite thing on the menu is the spuds, which you can get with bacon and everything — just delicious. They're also famous for their sweet tea."
Keller is quick to mention that he's in business with his uncle, Dale Mulvey, who's managed restaurants for some 25 years. "He's co-owner," Keller said. "I trust him just as much as anybody."
And Mulvey is quick to reply, "This is all about Dustin."
"I think it's so impressive the way he's going about handling things," Mulvey said. "He came to me just before his senior year at Purdue and said, 'Dale, I really think I'm going to have an opportunity to play football. I'm going to work hard, I know I'm going to do very well, and I'm going to make sure I do. But even a long career in the NFL is only 10 years. In my 30s I'm going to be looking for what I'm going to do next.' He asked me to start looking at some opportunities we might have."
Uncle and nephew pored over financial statements and restaurant statistics and decided to acquire those six existing **McAlister's Delis** up for sale in South Carolina about 18 months ago. Now Mulvey and Keller's brother, Drew, oversee their operations, and Keller drops in twice a year to check on his investments and sample a Spud Max or two.
(In the photo above, Keller is shown with the management team from one of his Charleston restaurants, from the left, Scott MacLellan, manager Chad Damron, Heather Bunyard and Jake MacLellan.)
So what's the next act for the 25-year-old TE/R (tight end/restaurateur)?
"As long as I see an opportunity has a great business plan and seems like it's a great investment, I'm pretty game for 'most anything," he said. "But right now the big thing for me is restaurants."
And staying with the theme of his franchises, he said, "We're looking to buy a few more lots and open up our own McAlister's, starting from scratch."
Green & White fans need fear not about Keller losing his football focus while building his eatery empire. He's established a strong personal foundation his first two Jets seasons (105 receptions, 1,238 yards, eight touchdowns, including three scores in the playoffs) and was a big part of last year's team emergence as AFC finalists. And he's already back at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center working on 2010.
"I'm getting back in the swing of things. I've been working out for two weeks," he said. "All the trips, that stuff is over with. It's going to be a big offseason, not only for me but for this team. The defense knows the defense now. The offense, I think for the most part we have guys set in place. So we'll see what happens."
But fans can also be sure that while Keller and his teammates will be questing for greater heights, several more green oases have sprung up in the South to follow the Jets. Sundays this past season, restaurant managers wore Keller's No. 81 jersey, and during the playoffs, Mulvey said, those six McAlister's turned into appropriately decorated Jets headquarters.
"They're delicious. Go check them out," said Keller. "And feedback would be appreciated."