By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
COVINGTON — The life story for Levere Cooley “Monty” Montgomery Jr. can be summed up pretty easily, the 86-year-old Covington resident said.
“I’ve been one damn lucky guy.”
Montgomery, even as he is looking at the age of 90 not far down the road, takes little credit for his successful life—both financially and personally.
“It’s really been about having great employees,” he added. “And truly, whatever my life has been, it’s all been because of my family—the love, the Catholic teaching I had—that’s why I’ve been so lucky.”
But Montgomery might have to accept a few accolades for a business life that links him with one of the best known stores in the history of Southeast Louisiana.
He is the man who started the well-known Time Saver convenience stores in 1951 with his first location at the corner of Carrollton and Oak Street in New Orleans, eventually turning it into a 97 store chain that was sold for over $10 million in 1978.
But his success didn’t stop there.
Montgomery teamed up with a brother-in-law in 1990 to start Take 5 Oil Change, creating the idea of a drive-thru oil change business that became even more successful than his Time Saver stores when he finally sold that business in the mid-2000s.
And the golden touch for Montgomery had one final hurrah as he took over his father’s 500-acre farm near Jonesboro, La., purchased 500 more acres, and eventually struck oil 20 years ago.
“The funny thing is that the oil they struck there was supposed to be pumping for about four years,” Montgomery said. “And now it’s been 20 years and it keeps producing.”
The “Montgomery” name probably rings a few bells for St. Tammany residents who hear it, since the recently elected District Attorney for the 22nd Judicial District Court is Warren Montgomery. That is Monty Montgomery’s son, one of six children in a family that includes 25 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, and most importantly Montgomery says, “my wonderful wife Ann. We’ve been married 65 years and she is 100 percent part of the successful life we’ve had. She’s the best partner a man could ever have.”
These days Montgomery still goes into the office to assist his son in the law practice since Warren is a bit busy serving as district attorney. Montgomery almost got a law degree of his own when he attended Tulane University in the 1940s, but graduated with a Commerce degree that ended up serving him well.
Growing up in New Orleans with one younger brother, his father worked at the Joy Theater, eventually purchasing the business and giving his son a chance to learn about business there.
“I used to sell popcorn and candy there,” he said. “Mom and dad wanted me to go to college after I graduated from Jesuit, but I was barely an average student and hardly the kid getting recommended to be accepted at Tulane.”
His fourth year of college saw him take law courses, hinting at a possible career as an attorney, but in the end he graduated with a Commerce degree and was given an opportunity to work in a theater chain in Dallas with a partner of his fathers.
“The 7-11 convenience stores had started over there and my dad’s partner wanted me to go check them out, so I worked there for about three weeks and decided to go home and try it myself,” he said.
Back in New Orleans in 1951, he found a location at the corner of Carrollton and Oak Street and it was his aunt who came up with the name, “Time Saver.”
“Our family was sitting around the table having dinner and I was trying to think of a name for my first store,” he said. “She said, ‘well, you’re saving people time with a little store, so how about Time Saver?’ That sounded good to me so I went with it.”
He had to borrow money from his father and then got a small bank loan to get started, and even though it was paying the bills from the beginning, he said it took years for the stores to really make much money.
“A couple of reasons we did alright from the beginning is that I came up with an idea to barbeque chickens out front,” he said. “That actually turned into a separate smokehouse restaurant on Carrollton.”
He also said he opened on Sundays and there was a Catholic Church across the street, with many parishioners coming to his store after mass.
“I also donated a few cases of drinks to the church fair and after that they really liked me,” he recalled.
Seeing the prospects for success he opened his second store on Metairie Road, then a third one on Canal Boulevard, but still the money wasn’t what he had hoped for. Searching for the real secret to success, he decided to talk with the executives at 7-11.
“I made an appointment to visit the man running the 7-11s, but when I walked in he couldn’t believe I was even coming to ask him for help,” Montgomery said with a laugh. “He was shocked to see me.”
The real key to Time Saver’s taking off was to come within six months when a man showed up trying to sell Montgomery his new drink machine.
“It was the machine that allowed us to make Icees,” Montgomery said. “I took a chance with it, and developed all the different flavors and gave it a good name, then put them in all my stores. It was a hit.”
Icee became so popular that Montgomery opened a distribution warehouse in Puerto Rico, operated by his later-to-be D.A. son Warren.
In 1978 his Time Saver business had grown to 97 stores and it was sold to a company in Kansas which actually specialized in grocery stores. Montgomery had built the company by keeping close to home, with all stores in the metropolitan New Orleans area.
He also sold the Icee brand name, along with his Take 5 Oil companies, making millions of dollars. But through it all, Montgomery always passed the credit to others.
“I had so many great managers, and that’s the reason our businesses did well,” he said. “Having good employees, and keeping them around, is probably the most important thing you can do with a business.”
Montgomery had other highlights in his life, like taking a run at the U.S. Congress at the age of 47 even though he lost, while he has continued to operate his farm in Louisiana—even though the oil well is still producing.
“My father taught me that you can have a productive and successful life, regardless of your financial status,” he said. “It’s all about the love from others, and to help others in every way you can.”
With so much family all around today, Montgomery said that the love surrounding him is the real success story in his life.
“My wife is having health problems now and I’ve got two of my daughters flying in from half-way across the country to be with her. What does that tell you about my life?”
“How lucky can a guy be?” he said.