I love seeing the faces of the people with whom I am conversing when I tell them that I have, indeed, worked at Jason’s Deli for 22 years. Most people are in utter disbelief because, in this age of looking for greener grass, tech-heavy opportunities in my hometown of Austin or the allure of cashing out early after the sale of a startup, the average tenure at a private company seems to be about 3 years. Personally, I am not driven by any of those things. I want to wake up every morning and make a difference. I want to work in an environment where I am allowed to execute on a vision and be allowed to passionately follow that path, even if I am not 100% sure of the clarity of that path. I want to be trusted.
I started back in 1994 as a manager in one of our then 33 delis in just a few states. Over the last 22 years, I have had so many titles and led so many departments I simply printed “Since 1994” on my cards, like an American Express badge of honor. We have grown to more than 260 stores in 29 states. The kids that used to work for me as high school students at night are now parents eating with us because of our best in class kid’s meals or opening their own restaurants!
I was a single 25-year-old kid from Boston who didn’t mind working my butt off, living in daily culture shock as I was totally blindsided by “Southern Hospitality” and people talking to me without asking them a question. I found a home within a culture that provided a wonderful working environment, passion for food, opportunity for growth, compassion for me as an individual and an entrepreneurial spirit that still defines our Brand today. The hospitality we provide for our guests was so foreign to me that our founder, Joe Tortorice Jr. called my General Manager and said “If I get one more complaint about this guy, I will drive to Austin and fire him myself!” True story! You can imagine how focused I was on making every customer happy?! What I learned was, it not only felt great to serve others, that satisfaction they felt led to more store visits. Imagine that! I am blessed to call Joe a friend and one of the great mentors of my life.
I am not alone. There are many, many of us within this organization that found a home. We started when we were single. We got married, bought our first homes, started having kids, shared stories about our kids growing up, spent nights and weekends schlepping them to select sports tournaments, etc. We talk about traveling, aches and pains resulting from age, spouses, dealing with parents getting sick and getting older and now, our kids in college, all made possible by our wonderful customers and the chances we were given to thrive in our culture. A great deal happens in 20+ years, and I am proud to have so many brothers and sisters in this extended family with whom I can share.
The owners of this company taught us how to lead, how to be better parents and business people, how to be spiritual and financially smart. They taught us how to be Servant Leaders, relationship builders, readers and self developers. They taught us how to balance our lives between working hard and playing hard, health and indulgence, work and family, hug and kickass. They taught us how to honor G-d in our daily work and balance our lives. Throughout the year, I will be highlighting the things that make us a very special Brand, telling our unique story. There was no place better to start than the founder of Jason’s Deli and creator of this wonderful culture.