Sat, May 25, 2024

Faith Friday: Divinely Directed

Steve Swanson is the former station manager of 88.3 WAFJ radio station in North Augusta.

They were sitting near one another in a general psychology class at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. Jon says he noticed Rachel first. They began dating as sophomores, got engaged before their senior year, and were married shortly after graduation. This week, I’m having a conversation with Jon and Rachel Dawkins, owners/operators of the two Chick-fil-A restaurants in North Augusta.

Jon had previously been a Chick-fil-A team member but was not working there when they met, Rachel was, started working there at the age of 15 years old. Jon was driving a forklift for Winn-Dixie to help pay for school until the company filed for bankruptcy and he lost his job.

Tony, the Chick-fil-A operator Rachel worked for in Greenville had a deep impact on her life and encouraged her to major in Operations Management. Early on, she had a desire to run her own store. Rachel saw firsthand how deeply her boss Tony really cared about the people that worked with them.

Jon had his sights set on applying to the FBI and his studies were focused on that goal. After his Winn-Dixie job ended, Rachel hired him at the Chick-fil-A where she worked. During a lunch rush while cutting lemons to make lemonade, Jon sliced his hand, and the store owner took him to the ER. While awaiting treatment, his boss asked if he had ever thought about becoming a Chick-fil-A owner/operator. A seed was planted!

Jon made a promise to God when he was fifteen that he would not miss church because of work. God has been faithful to allow him to keep that promise. Even when he worked at Winn Dixie his schedule allowed Jon to keep his vow, which he has to this day.

Rachel was very clear saying there is no way to look at their life story without seeing God has orchestrated all the details and directed their steps.

God allowed Jon to finish his criminal justice degree and gain two years of on-the-job experience at a Chick-fil-A in Greenville. The manager there encouraged them to apply for their own store. It’s an extensive process that includes a twelve-page application and eleven interviews! In the middle of the process, they were asked about their “plan B.” Jon said there wasn’t one. They believed they were on a God-led path. At first, they were encouraged to consider a store in Boston, Massachusetts (Rachel is originally from Maine) but both believed it was not for them.

The next available location was a store in the Aiken Mall. They had never been to Aiken. When they investigated it, they immediately saw it would be a challenge. Mainly because a new Chick-fil-A store had just opened outside the mall.

They decided to go ahead and say yes to the store in the mall. One of the biggest lessons Jon says they learned was that “Joy and happiness are not found in things or material possessions.”  They were parents of a daughter. Their date nights consisted of grabbing some change from their coin jar and then making the trek to Blockbuster to rent a movie.

God blessed their efforts, and they brought the store to life and profitability. Jon was even chosen as the Chick-fil-A “Rookie of the Year” from the Southeast region.

After a year, they became aware that a store was going to be built in North Augusta. The Haywood Mall in Greenville also had an opening, but since they could only apply for one location at a time, they put their names “in the hat” for consideration for North Augusta.

They had been so engaged in working and going to church in Aiken that they had never been to North Augusta and there was very little retail development there at the time. But, after much prayer, they set their sights on the North Augusta store.

Rachel found out that they had been awarded the North Augusta store when she came home one day to yellow roses (her favorite) and a note from Jon that said, “I hope you like the weather in North Augusta!”

They finished at the Aiken Mall store on June 30th, 2003, and started the North Augusta store on August 7th. It was a very stressful year. They moved from Aiken, bought their first house, and found out they were expecting their second child as they were in the process of opening the new store.

For the first couple of years, the store was a low-volume restaurant, but then became the highest-volume store in town.

The couple has also clearly seen God’s hand in the process of opening and running their second store on Edgefield Road. Tony, the owner/operator Rachel worked for in Greenville many years ago, and his wife Gwen, came to the dedication of their second North Augusta store when it opened back in November.

Jon says the model of local ownership is huge with Chick-fil-A noting their two stores are only five miles apart. At this point in our conversation, Rachel jumped in and shared the Chick-fil-A corporate purpose; “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to be a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

In the over 20 years, the Dawkins have been involved with the company; several things remain unchanged. Every year, the Cathy family begins the company’s annual meeting by emphasizing 1) Their corporate purpose will never change 2) They will always be a private company 3) They will never be open on Sunday.

I had to ask- “How do you two work together and still maintain “margins” to stay healthy as a couple?” Rachel says they are intentional about getting away for a few days each year to focus on their relationship. Since their entire family works at Chick-fil-A, there are times on Sundays Jon will remind everyone, “We’re closed today.”

He says he’s recently been reminded that we aren’t what we do and that our identity needs to be found in Christ. “It’s whose we are, not who we are.” Jon says, “We love living, worshiping, and working in the same community, but sometimes, it’s exhausting.”

As we concluded our conversation, Jon said, “We have always said that this is our ministry. We really feel like we lead a small congregation. We employ 260 people between the two stores. These are the people God calls us to serve.”

He added, “One thing I’ve personally been working on the last year or so is to define success not by results or accomplishments, but through faithfulness or fidelity. Was I faithful today to what God called me to do? Not were all the numbers perfect and did we get great sales and run great profits, but was I faithful today?”

In 2017, Chick-fil-A allowed the Dawkins to incorporate. They chose the name “Family of Faith.” Because that’s the purpose of who they are and what they do.

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