Few Springfieldians have rubbed shoulders with as many political powers, esteemed executives, famous actors and world-class athletes as Sam F. Hamra.
Yet, Hamra has written his own great story. The cast of characters includes Ted Kennedy, Colin Powell, Barack Obama, Sam Walton, Steve Forbes, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Taylor, Danny Thomas, Stan Musial, and Jack Nicklaus. Hamra tells stories and points to their pictures on the walls of his corporate office, where Hamra Enterprises is expected to generate $150 million in 2010 revenue.
“He taught me social graces,” Hamra says of political figure True Davis, without a tinge of sounding star-struck, then he points to other photos – on national political stages with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Kathleen Turner at a fundraiser in his home and on the golf course with Gary Player. “That’s my hole-in-one,” Hamra says.
But the lead roles in Hamra’s story belong to the everyday people in his life, starting with his father. Born and raised in the Missouri Bootheel town of Steele, Hamra paid close attention to his Lebanese father, who came here in 1913 and ran a retail store catering to cotton pickers.
“He taught us without ever saying it but example setting,” Hamra says of his dad, “that you work hard, make your money and give back to your community and your country.”
After graduating with his law degree from University of Missouri, Hamra had two job offers: a clerk position in St. Louis or joining the Springfield firm of Miller, Fairman & Sanford. Partner John Miller made Hamra an offer of $400 a month after he passed the bar. The young Hamra and his wife, June, who met after college while Hamra was in the army, felt connected to Springfield during a visit, and he decided to join the 10-attorney firm.
“I was so impressed with him,” Hamra recalls. “We liked Springfield. It reminded (June) of Eastchester, New York, where she grew up.”
Besides Miller, Hamra mentions other mentors: federal Judge Roy Harper of St. Louis; attorney John Hulston; landowner and Brown Derby founder John A. Morris; developer John Q. Hammons; Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas and Mono Manufacturing owner Denton Smith – Hamra’s political mentor.
“When I came to Springfield, all I knew was Democrat politics,” Hamra says. “I didn’t realize I was walking into a beehive.”
He became active in political fundraising, working on state and federal campaigns, including as finance chairman for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
“I got known as a guy who could raise some money,” he says. A registered Democrat, Hamra says he votes for candidates and their platforms.
Hamra practiced at Miller Fairman & Sanford 1959–65 then opened his own office in The Plaza, in what was then considered southeast Springfield.
“Most lawyers went to the Woodruff, McDaniel or Landers buildings,” Hamra says.
He asked a law school classmate, John Crow, to form a law partnership, and in 1970, the two opened in Glenstone Square. The firm later added two attorneys and moved to Corporate Center until the Wendy’s business took shape.
Among Hamra’s law victories, he names securing funding for the Ozark Mountain Highroad in Branson, the $50 million Branson Landing tax increment financing district and making Chestnut Expressway four lanes from Highway 65 to Kansas Expressway.
In the 1970s, Hamra visited one of the first Wendy’s in Memphis and remembers the jam-packed parking lot and a policeman directing traffic outside. He decided to go after franchise rights in Springfield, Joplin and Columbia/Jefferson City with a partner and opened his first Wendy’s store in March 1976 at Sunshine Street and Campbell Avenue.
“Bill Turner made my first loan on the building,” he says of the Great Southern Bank founder. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gotten started. No bank would have talked to us in those days.”
A second Wendy’s opened in June of that same year in Joplin, and a couple of months later, a Glenstone Avenue site surfaced. In true Hamra form, Hamra sought Bob Hope to attend the grand opening – and he did. Hope was scheduled to be in town for the Hammons Student Center dedication, so Hamra wrote Hope a letter inviting him to help open the restaurant. “One night at home, I get a call. He said, ‘Sam?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is Bob.’ I said, ‘Bob, who?’”
Hope agreed to Hamra’s invitation and cut the ribbon at the store.
Under the parent company Hamra Enterprises, Hamra now owns 28 Wendy’s restaurants. That work led to an opportunity to own Panera Bread stores in Chicago and later in Boston, and Hamra Enterprises now owns 47 Panera cafés.
Hamra credits recent success to Wendy’s of Missouri Inc. President Chuck Ocarz and Hamra’s son, Michael Hamra, who is president and chief operating officer of Hamra Enterprises, the 3,000-employee umbrella company that includes SJH Hotels LLC and Jade Properties.
“Those are the two guys who really deserve the credit – and the people who work with them,” Sam Hamra says. “I give our people credit. I don’t have our people work for me, I have them work with me.”[[In-content Ad]]