Collins College of Hospitality Management
CPP Magazine

Man with a Vision

By Melanie Johnson

jim-collins-cpp-mag-cover.jpgMore than six decades ago, an auspicious meeting with the brothers who founded McDonald’s led Jim Collins from constructing churches to building a restaurant empire.

A whirlwind of good fortune combined with the foresight to envision where the restaurant industry was headed helped the Navy veteran thrive. A deeply held belief in the importance of giving back prompted Collins and his wife, Carol, to create a foundation and pledge their support to a variety of causes, including The Collins College of Hospitality Management.

The businessman, humanitarian and philanthropist remains a force in the food industry, and graduates of The Collins College are heirs to his legacy.

This is his story.

Jim Collins' Innovation and Philanthropy has Inspired a Generation of Students

jim-collins-menu.jpgA request from his father-in-law and an introduction by a friend to the founders of McDonald’s changed the course of Jim Collins’ life.

Two years after graduating from UCLA, Collins (the namesake of Cal Poly Pomona’s The Collins College of Hospitality Management) was a civil engineer building churches. He knew nothing about opening a restaurant when his father-in-law tasked him with turning an oddly-shaped building in Los Angeles that shared a 10-acre lot with a tire store and an appliance shop into an eatery.

“In this empty building, I am putting in a restaurant,” Collins says. “I don’t know what a restaurant looks like, but I am working at it.”

While Collins was deep in sawdust and paint, a friend who worked at the Edison company stopped by and beckoned Collins to take a ride with him the next day. That drive to San Bernardino was to meet Dick and Maurice McDonald, who had opened their first hamburger stand.

“At noon time, this 15-cent hamburger stand was just packed,” he says. “I came back and said to my father-in-law, ‘You’ve got to take a ride with me tomorrow.’

“So, we drove back out to San Bernardino. We looked at each other and realized that we didn’t want a restaurant. We didn’t want a coffee shop. We wanted a hamburger stand.”

Hamburger Handout opened in 1952 on the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and Centinela Avenue in Los Angeles — offering 19-cent burgers, 10-cent fries and nickel ice cream cones.

Collins either worked the grill or wrapped the hamburgers, depending on the day, earning around $84,000 his first year in the restaurant business — more than nine times his engineering salary.

Collins Food International Expands

His early success led him to assist a franchisee with opening four Hamburger Handouts in Northern California. That franchisee took Collins to Louisville, Kentucky, to meet Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. A handshake deal with the Colonel enabled Collins to sell chicken at the hamburger stands. He subsequently sold the stands he owned and became a franchise representative for Kentucky Fried Chicken from San Luis Obispo down to Southern California. He also helped start franchises in Northern California, Seattle and Portland.

Between 1962 and 1968, Collins Foods International opened 240 KFCs, as they are called now, personally owning and operating 33 stores. In 1969, he opened the first KFC in Queensland, Australia, and by the 1990s, had 100 stores in Australia and 170 in the United States.

Collins also owned 157 Sizzler steak restaurants at one point in California, Ohio, Florida, Atlanta, Washington and Australia. He started with four after a visit from Sizzler founder and friend Del Johnson in 1967.

“He walks into my office and says to me, ‘I want to retire and live in Palm Springs and play golf every day. You’ve got to buy my Sizzlers,’” Collins says. “We were either doing Sizzlers or chicken stores from there on.”

Cal Poly Pomona Connection

collins-college-cpp-mag-philanthropy.jpgThe food business provided the link between Collins and Cal Poly Pomona. Restauranteur Al Levy, who supplied Collins with the meat for his Sizzlers, was on the board of The Collins College, which started as a department in the College of Business Administration in 1973. In the 1980s, the program’s growth prompted the establishment of the Center for Hospitality Management and subsequently the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

After Collins attended a board meeting at Levy’s invitation, he knew he wanted to get involved and donate.

“It’s probably the hospitality program in Southern California, so I just kind of climbed on board,” he says. “It was the right place at the right time.”

Carol Collins recalls her husband’s enthusiasm regarding the program.

“You said to me, ‘You know, I really love this whole idea and I want to donate,’” she says. “It was a lot of money. I remember we were driving in the car.”

The couple, married 68 years, donated $10 million to the hospitality program in 1999, which led to the construction of a state-of-the-art learning complex and the renaming of the college in their honor. They also made a $10 million leadership gift in 2018 to establish the Carol and James A. Collins Excellence Endowment. 

“The Collins College is one of the premiere hospitality programs in the country thanks to the contibutions of generous donors like Jim and Carol Collins,” says Dean Lea Dopson. “Jim’s involvement on the board certainly propelled us forward to be who we are today.”

The Collins Legacy

The Collins family believes in giving back.

ar-collins,-jim-and-carol,-cathy2.jpgCathy Hession, the eldest of the couple’s four children, runs The Carol and James Collins Foundation, which supports educational causes, particularly in underserved communities. Besides gifts to Cal Poly Pomona, the couple has generously donated to their alma mater UCLA, receiving the UCLA Medal in 2016, the university’s highest honor. In 2017, a new 65,000-square-foot Collins & Katz Family YMCA opened on the campus of University High School in Los Angeles.

“The lesson you’ve given, and I think probably I take the most seriously, is that when you get involved, you go all in,” Hession says to her father. “You take on leadership roles. You stay with it.”

Both Jim and Carol Collins say they love the feeling they get when they see Cal Poly Pomona students cross the stage to receive their diplomas or run into alumni who are thriving in their careers.

Jim Collins says giving back brings the greatest satisfaction.

“It’s fun to make money,” he says. “It’s fun to have money, but the most fun of all is giving it away.”


Jim and Carol Collins

The couple met at an exchange event for their respective sorority and fraternity. “I looked across the room and here’s this gorgeous blonde. I said, ‘Wow,’” Jim Collins says. They attended a wedding on their first date.

When Colonel Sanders came to California to visit the couple, he slept on their couch. “He was very good to me,” Jim Collins says.

Jim Collins and Colonel Sanders


Cal Poly Pomona becomes the first university on the West Coast to offer a four-year degree in hospitality management. The program begins with 34 students under founding director Donald Lundberg.

The program separates from the College of Business Administration to become the Center for Hospitality Management.

The James & Carol Collins Center for Hospitality Management opens its first building at Cal Poly Pomona, which includes classrooms, offices, kitchen laboratories and The Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch.

The center becomes the Collins School of Hospitality Management. Chef Julia Child gives a master class.

Jim and Carol Collins’ $10 million gift, as well as donations from industry partners, enable the construction of two more buildings.

The school is designated as a college.

The college opens a $10 million academic building funded entirely by donor support, including a $5 million match from the Collins family. Additional supporters include Panda Restaurant Group founders Andrew and Peggy Cherng, J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, and businessman Eugene Park.

The Collins foundation make a $10 million leadership gift to establish the Carol and James A. Collins Excellence Endowment.

Collins Alumni
Bruce Gorelick

Bruce Gorelick

Class of 1978
In 2017, Gorelick became the general manager and managing director of the Loews Regency in San Francisco after 38 years with Marriott International. He previously worked at The Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Hotels, and Marriott Resorts and Suites. Gorelick is a member of The Collins College’s Board of Advisors.

Leslie Butler

Class of 1990
Butler has been a Collins faculty member since 1992. She previously worked with FORBCO Management, which owned Sizzler Restaurant franchises. She also worked for Roma Corporation, owners of Tony Roma restaurants, and trained managers and employees for new store openings, and managed the kitchen, bar and service staff.

Lesley Butler
Matthew Kou

Matthew Kou

Class of 2006
As vice president of investments and acquisitions for Pacifica Hotels, Kou is focused on strategically growing the company’s portfolio of more than 30 independent and branded hotels. He credits professors Margie Jones and Don St. Hilaire for introducing him to the investment side of the industry.
He has held previous positions with Sonnenblick-Eichner and PKF Consulting.

Lera Van Staatum

Class of 2009
Straatum is the president of The Collins College’s alumni chapter and an adjunct faculty member. She is the operations director for one of the flagship properties of the business and sports division of ClubCorp. Prior to that, she worked at the Cordillera Country Club in Vail, Colorado, after graduating as the college’s McPhee Scholar.

Lera Van Staatum
John Farzam

John Farzam

Class of 2011
Farzam is vice president of several independent hotel properties, which he co-owns and operates with his family. He and his family built and opened Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, a LEED gold certified property that is a leader in the Southern California hotel market. He is focusing on asset management and growing the family portfolio.