Fifty years have passed and he is about $ 600 million richer.
But former Western Mustangs tackle and wrestling champion Jack Cowin is back in London to open a Lone Star restaurant almost opposite his old meeting place at Ceeps.
“We have 20 other restaurants but this one is special – there’s a lot of nostalgia here,” said the Australian-Canadian fast food mogul.
Cowin, 70, is also back to donate $ 1 million to Western University Sports to further the coaching tradition he credits with setting him on the path to success.
“Looking back, some of the most influential people who have affected me in my life were sports coaches. “
Cowin was born and raised in Windsor. His father was an executive at Ford of Canada and he grew up in historic Walkerville.
He studied psychology at Western, but it was sports teams that drew him to campus.
“You had to work on your studies to be able to continue your sports, but I hardly remember anything I learned in class. “
He was a lineman for the football team coached by John (The Bull) Metras.
Under the guidance of trainer Glynn Leyshon, Cowin became a heavyweight wrestling champion.
He also met his wife Sharon, who grew up in London and was a member of the varsity swim team.
After graduation he was drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but after a few games he realized he wouldn’t be successful in the CFL.
He returned to the East and got a job with London Life. He moved to the Toronto area and spent five years as a successful insurance salesperson.
“Selling insurance is the hardest thing I have ever done. People have to eat three times a day, but no one has to buy insurance. It is an intangible product.
In 1968, Cowin went to Australia for three weeks to research business opportunities.
His father had spent six months there on a Ford assignment.
“He told me Australia was a land of milk and honey. If he did it again, he would move there.
Cowin saw long lines for take out at a Chinese restaurant in Sydney. There were pubs and fish n ‘chips, but the fast food industry was far behind North America.
He made a $ 1,000 deposit for a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Western Australia.
Cowin returned to Canada to find funders. He was now married with a baby, a house and not much money. He sort of persuaded 30 people to invest $ 10,000 (the equivalent of $ 66,000 today) in his new business.
“The fact that I was ready to pack my family and move halfway around the world impressed them.”
From Perth, Australia, Cowin’s fast food empire grew rapidly as he purchased KFC franchises.
He then made a deal with Burger King, eventually opening hundreds of restaurants under the Hungry Jack’s name because someone had already claimed the Burger King name in Australia.
He then became a major shareholder of Domino’s Pizza.
Cowin also owns a large meat processing company and a winery and has invested in an Australian television network.
He said being Canadian has helped him in his Australian business career.
One of his most prominent investments has been the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb, a successful tourist attraction launched in 1998 that allows adventurers to climb part of the iconic bridge.
About 5,000 people take the bridge every week, paying about $ 200 each.
“My friends say only a foreigner would see this as an opportunity. Sometimes it takes someone with a different perspective.
Cowin is still technically an alien in Australia as he never gave up his Canadian citizenship.
He staked out business interests in Canada with Lone Star, a Tex-Mex restaurant chain. Cowin teamed up with Whit Tucker, another Windsor native and Western graduate who played in Ottawa.
Lone Star has 21 branches across Ontario, including the new Richmond Row restaurant which opened this month.
Cowin returns to Canada about four times a year and always comes to London to visit his 92-year-old mother, Dorothy.
He attends Western Homecoming celebrations almost every year and has been a generous donor to his alma mater.
He was a major donor in the construction of the TD Waterhouse Stadium and the Stanley J. Cowin West Grandstand is named after his father.
Western announced Friday that Cowin is donating $ 1 million to establish a fund to support high performance coaches for Western athletic programs.
Cowin is also donating $ 3 million to support a scholarship and exchange program between Western University and Bond University in Australia.
Cowin said he ended up in Australia by chance, but the global experience is now a must.
“To survive these days you have to be exposed to what is going on in the rest of the world”
He laughs at his big donations, joking that it’s an Australian trick to hang out with friends.
Despite all his wealth and international commercial success, Cowin is little known in Canada and that suits him well.
“There are advantages to being under the radar rather than the spotlight. “