Don Jordan is a successful entrepreneur and restaurant franchisee I wish every Christian could know. Here are highlights from his inspiring career and a short video about how he continues to challenge over 40 business leaders he has mentored over the years.
Don Jordan was born with a head for business and a love for people. I know this because he’s my wife’s cousin and family stories abound.
Born and raised in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Don was the first Mississippi College graduate to receive an MBA from Harvard. After serving in the U.S. Army, his career path included some high-profile positions at Fortune 500 companies. Relationship skills propelled his success everywhere he worked.
In 1974 he seized an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new fast-food concept called Wendy’s. He bought a Wendy's franchise in Waco, Texas, and commuted back and forth from Waco to Memphis, where he and his family had settled.
"Dad might be out of town on business all week long, but when he was home, he was devoted to his family, church, and ministry. He started Bible studies in Memphis, and our house was always open to people in need,” says Trey Jordan, Don’s son who leads Jordan Enterprises today.
For over 20 years Don used his God-given relationship skills to grow the Waco franchise into one of the top Wendy's in America. Don won (literally) every marketing award presented by Wendy's International and was also named an honorary alumnus of Baylor University.
In 1993, Don and Trey founded Holiday Deli & Ham in Memphis. Now with four locations and a huge catering operation, the family friendly deli offers renowned sandwiches, soups, salads, and desserts. Many of their signature dishes, including their legendary pimento cheese, are made from Don’s own recipes.
Customers and employees call Don “Papa Jordan,” which says a lot.
We like to think of ourselves as the non-alcoholic Cheers. We're not just selling food here. We're selling the feeling of family and creating a welcoming atmosphere for our customers and employees.
Although Don retired in 2004 and faces significant health challenges, many days he still joins Trey in greeting customers by name at their busy Poplar Avenue location. The father and son ask customers about their work and families, and after the noon rush, they do the same with employees.
While they sell over 80,000 pounds of Papa Jordan's Pimento Cheese each year, it’s well known that the success of Holiday Deli & Ham is due to the Jordans’ genuine care for people.
Over his long career, Don has encouraged and mentored countless business leaders, entrepreneurs, and pastors across the country. Seventy such men are in what he calls his "Barnabas Group."
Much of Don’s mentoring stems from a lesson he learned as a young businessman. Like many leaders, Don says he struggled to balance the competing demands for his time and energy. This drove him to develop a “metaphor for life” to remind himself of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between his work, his young family, and his faith.
Life is like a three-legged stool. One leg represents the professional, one the spiritual, and the third family and friends. If all three legs are not in balance, the stool will topple, but if all three are given equal attention, the stool — your life — will be stable. Most business people grow the business leg too long, but I've never known a truly happy person who didn't have three equal legs.
Disabling Diagnosis Enables More Blessings
As an energetic 80-year-old, Don’s schedule overflowed with doing what he loved: building relationships and sharing his three-legged stool approach to life. Then, in 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer and prognosis for survival was poor. Treatment involved a painful and exhausting combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The Encourager himself found himself gravely ill, bedridden, and depressed.
I felt sorry for myself. I felt old, sick, and in pain. All I could do was study and pray. I kept waiting for God to speak to me from the burning bush with a revealing message, but He didn't. Instead, I heard Him say, "Keep doing what you're doing, but do a better job."
Don took God’s instruction to heart and decided to redouble his efforts. On the eve of a critical surgery, he felt led to do something quite astounding. He met with some of the local Barnabas Group members and wrote to others—around 50 in all. Each man received an envelope containing $1,000 and instructions to use the money to provide a blessing for others. Don also encouraged them to match his gift and double the blessing.
I told them that I knew many of them served on boards or had already written checks to their churches or to Christian universities, and that I understood that was very important. But with this money, I asked them to touch individuals—to help a widow or an orphan, to use the money to help someone in a direct way.
As the men reported back to Don via letters and emails, Don learned that one gave the money to a young minister who had lost his father, his unborn baby, and his job—all within a matter of weeks. Another man provided Christmas dinner for a destitute family and gave hope to a woman who had lost everything in a house fire. Another blessed a woman who was investing her limited time and resources to care for her dying brother in Kentucky.
Don’s money helped clothe low-income teenagers in North Carolina and establish a college ministry in Massachusetts. It also crossed international borders, helping to fund a church in Kazakhstan and share the love of Jesus with Christian "untouchables" in Egypt.
Some of the men put Don’s idea into practice in an additional way: They gave their own friends, colleagues, and family members a sum of money and requested that it be invested in blessing someone else. At the end of the holiday season, Don’s original $50,000 investment had multiplied into $250,000. Hear his inspiring words in this short video.
Don's life verse is Proverbs 22:1, "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." After fifty years of doing business in Memphis, Don continues to use his good name to influence and encourage others to do their work for the glory of God.