With a metropolitan area population of 1.2 million, there's no doubt that Memphis, Tennessee is a big city. But drop by one of Memphis's four Holiday Deli & Ham restaurants, and the ambiance is much more Mayberry than Memphis.
"We like to think of ourselves as the non-alcoholic Cheers," says Don "Papa" Jordan '51, who co-founded the restaurant with his son, Trey. "We're not just selling food here. We're selling the feeling of family and creating a welcoming atmosphere for our customers and employees."
A typical day finds Papa Jordan greeting customers by name at Holiday Deli's busy Poplar Avenue location. Jordan inquires about his customers' work and their families, and when the lunch rush dies down, asks the same solicitous questions of each of the restaurants employees, taking time to personally speak with everyone from the manager to the busboys. Seeing Jordan's genuine concern for every person who crosses his path, it's clear that Holiday Deli & Ham owes its success to more than just its signature dish, Papa Jordan's Pimento Cheese.
"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."
"The people who work here are as amazing as the food," says longtime customer Jean Saxon. "Holiday Deli is a place to meet and greet. You always feel welcome."
"The Jordans make sure your family is taken care of as well as their family," says Heather Nadicksbernd, who worked her way from cashier to general manager of Holiday Deli's Poplar Avenue location. "In the 10 years I've worked here, Mr. Jordan has become like a grandfather to me. He even came to my wedding.
"They treat me like family here," agrees Debbie Elder, who has worked the front counter for 12 years. "Why would I ever want to leave?"
Long before he founded Holiday Deli & Ham, Don Jordan knew the importance of building meaningful relationships with people. His gift for cultivating those relationships made Jordan a respected businessman, but it's his intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and his commitment to ministering to others that's truly made him a success.
Don Jordan has had a head for business and a knack for sales ever since he was a child. As a boy growing up in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Jordan operated a fruit stand, delivered newspapers and groceries on his bicycle, and sold leftover Easter candy to his classmates.
By the time he enrolled at Mississippi College in the late 1940s, Jordan had fine-tuned his ability to recognize untapped business opportunities. Jordan and his roommate, Robert McRae '51, began a used textbook exchange program at MC that eventually became a university-run operation and a model for other colleges. When an ice storm shut down the MC cafeteria, Jordan and McRae bought all of the meat, cheese, and bread in the local convenience store and operated a temporary sandwich shop in their dorm room. When that same ice storm froze the university's water system, the two rented a room at a nearby hotel and charged their classmates "a small fee" to take a shower, although Jordan confesses, "I felt bad about that. I eventually just let them shower for free."
Despite his business acumen, it came as a complete surprise to Jordan when Harvard Business School offered him a scholarship for graduate studies.
"I didn't understand it," Jordan says. "I had never applied to Harvard Business School." When Jordan shared the letter from Harvard with his accounting teacher, Mrs. Frances Skulley, the mystery was solved.
"She told me that she had applied for me," Jordan says, still tearing up at the memory some 60 years later. "I could never thank her enough."
Jordan accepted the scholarship, becoming the first MC graduate to study at Harvard. Following his Harvard Business School graduation and service in the U.S. Army, Jordan launched what would become a stellar business career. Over the next several decades, he held high-profile positions nationwide with Procter & Gamble, First Mississippi Corporation, and leading pharmaceutical companies including Bristol Myers and Plough. Jordan and his wife, Marlene, and their three children, Cyndi, Jen, and Trey, eventually settled in Memphis, Tennessee, where Jordan became a leader in his church and in the community.
With so many demands on his time and energies, Jordan developed a "metaphor for life" to remind himself to maintain 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," Jordan explains. "Most business people grow that business leg too long, but I've never known a truly happy person in my life who didn't have three equal legs."
"In the years when we were growing up, 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," Trey Jordan recalls. "He started Bible studies in Memphis, and our house was always open to people in need."
In 1974, Jordan saw yet another opportunity in a new and as-yet-unheard-of fast food operation called Wendy's. He bought a Wendy's franchise in Waco, Texas, and put his relationship skills to work to make the eatery a success. Jordan became an integral part of the Waco community, handing out coupons for free burgers, supporting local merchants, speaking at Baylor University business classes, purchasing Baylor football game tickets to give to local boys' clubs, and forming friendships with Waco residents, all while commuting back and forth from Tennessee to Texas.
Jordan's hard work paid off. The Waco franchise became one of the top Wendy's franchises in America, out-performing franchises in much larger markets. Jordan not only won virtually every marketing award presented by Wendy's International and the Wendy Award recognizing the top franchisee of the year, but was also named an honorary alumnus of Baylor University.
In the early 1990s, Trey Jordan, who had already built a successful career of his own in commercial real estate, approached his father about going into business together. The two decided to found their own restaurant, and in 1993, Holiday Deli & Ham was born. The family friendly deli serves up scrumptious sandwiches, soups, salads, and desserts. Many of Holiday Deli & Ham's signature dishes, including their famous pimento cheese, are made from Don Jordan's own recipes. The restaurant takes its name from the late Marlene Jordan's philosophy that every day should be lived like a holiday.
"My mother saw everything as a reason to celebrate," Trey Jordan says. "If I made an A in school, we'd have a party to celebrate. If I made an F in school, we'd have a party to cheer me up. She used any excuse to have a celebration."
The Jordans focused on creating an atmosphere and culture of family at Holiday Deli, down to the family photos that grace the walls and the company's slogan, "We'll feed you like family." Once again, the idea of a business based on relationships proved successful for Don Jordan. He and his son now operate six locations employing 100 people in Memphis and Knoxville, where the restaurants serve up the same delicious menu under the name Pimento's Café & Market. Last year, the Jordans sold more than 80,000 pounds of pimento cheese alone.
In 1996, after 22 years of commuting from Tennessee to Texas, Don Jordan sold his Wendy's franchise. In 2004, he retired, remaining with Holiday Deli & Ham as an advisor but turning ownership of the company over to his son.
Jordan focused the next phase of his life on Christian ministry. Over his long career, he had met dozens of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and pastors nationwide. For years Jordan had served as a mentor and prayer partner for some 40 men he came to call his "Barnabas Group." Jordan named the group after a Biblical follower of Christ known for his care and concern for others. The apostles called him Barnabas — the "son of encouragement."
According to Acts 11:24, "[Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord."
Following his retirement, Jordan devoted his time to his family — which now included his second wife, Cynthia, and two grandchildren — service to his church and the Memphis community, and encouraging the members of his Barnabas Group. At 80 years old, Jordan was still finding happiness through the relationships he cherished and his three-legged stool approach to life.
Then in 2010, Jordan was diagnosed with cancer. Treatment would involve a painful, exhausting combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Even then, his prognosis for survival was poor. Accustomed to playing the role of the encourager, Jordan found himself bedridden, ill, and depressed.
"I felt sorry for myself," Jordan says. "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.'"
Jordan took that instruction to heart. At a time when poor health and increasing age might have led other men to slow their ministry efforts, Jordan redoubled his.
He began by making a generous gift to the Mississippi College School of Business, specifying that the money be used to establish an endowment for developing programs and attracting speakers focused on integrating faith in the work place. It's Jordan's hope that the gift will inspire future business leaders to live every day for Christ and integrate their faith into every aspect of their lives.
Then, on the eve of a critical surgery, Jordan gathered with some of the local Barnabas Group members and wrote to others. Each man received an envelope containing $1,000 and a charge from Don Jordan to use the money to provide a blessing for others.
"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, " Jordan says. "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."
Within a few weeks, Don Jordan began receiving letters and e-mails detailing what the men had done with the money and who had benefitted as a result. Jordan's gift encouraged a young minister who lost his father, his unborn baby, and his job, all within a matter of weeks. It provided Christmas dinner for a destitute family, and hope for a woman who lost everything she owned in a house fire. It helped clothe low-income teenagers in North Carolina, establish a college ministry in Massachusetts, and give hope to a godly woman who was investing all of her limited time and resources in caring for her dying brother in Kentucky. Jordan's simple gift crossed international borders, helping to share the Word of God and the love of Jesus with Christian "untouchables" in Cairo, Egypt, and funding a church in Kazakhstan.
Many of the men matched the dollar amount Jordan had given them, doubling its impact. Others not only put Jordan's gift to work, but also put his idea into practice, giving their own friends, family members, and colleagues a sum of money and asking that it be invested in blessing someone else.
"After praying about what to do with the money, it occurred to me that I needed to emulate not only Don's generosity, but his leadership," says Rev. Sandy Willson, senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, who shared the giving project with his own adult children. "Don's gift had an effect not only in the lives of a variety of people, but also on my own family. "Don's philanthropic brainstorm is typical of the way he operates," Rev. Willson continues. "He loves to encourage other people, and he's also willing to probe his friends with tough questions and profound challenges that make them better."
"God works in mysterious ways," Jordan says. "If I had not been so sick, I would not have started these things."
While Don Jordan had been praying for guidance in serving others, people nationwide had been praying for Don Jordan, offering loving entreaties that Jordan believes are "the reason I am still alive today." His health has slowly improved; at 81 years old, he is still looking for new ways to minister to others. And much to the joy of his customers, Papa Jordan has resumed his role as a beloved fixture at Holiday Deli & Ham.
"It's so good to have him back," Heather Nadicksbernd says. "When he was in the hospital, customers would come in with tears in their eyes to ask about him. Papa Jordan is just such a big part of this community. Everyone loves him."
"My father wasn't supposed to make it and he probably shouldn't be out of bed," Trey Jordan says. "But Dad is not only up, he is serving other people. He is so excited about this phase of his life, which he's devoted to witnessing and telling people about Jesus Christ. Seeing that has been a blessing and an inspiration to our entire family."
Trey Jordan is working to impart the lessons learned from his father to his own children, 17-year-old Jules and 15-year-old Luke. When Luke turned 13, Trey invited seven godly men to his father's farm in rural Mississippi to participate in "Luke's Walk." Each man took a one-mile walk in the woods with Luke, using their time together to talk about a single word. One man spoke about faith, while another talked about the importance of integrity. The final leg of the walk was shared by Luke Jordan, his father, Trey Jordan, and his grandfather, Don Jordan.
The word the Jordan men discussed together was "legacy."