WORDS: Sheri Roca
PITCURES: Whitney Patton
Bradenton native Nathan Hoeksema – Chick-fil-A owner, philanthropist, humanitarian, patron, benefactor, supporter, angel.
In June 1993, Nathan was a shy 15-year-old at Bradenton Christian school, looking for a summer job. He had hopes of making enough money to buy his first car. His older sister and some friends from school, worked at the local Chick-fil-A in DeSoto Square mall, so he decided to start the application process there.
He was soon hired to bus tables and clean the dining room for $4.15 an hour. By his late teens, he had become a supervisor, and in 2001 Nathan became one of the youngest Chick-fil-A owners at age 23. “29 years later, I still have the same job”, Nathan jokes. “I fell in love with the people, the process, the company, and what they stand for.”
Nathan did not dream of becoming a restaurant owner. His parents had been missionaries, and Nathan thought that missionary work was his calling as well. But when he graduated from college in 1999, he found himself struggling with his career decision. As much as he felt that missionary work was his purpose, he did not want to leave his home.
So, he prayed for guidance, feeling confused about the direction he should go. And God answered his prayers, telling Nathan that people in Florida need God’s word too. And Nathan realized that he could go into the mission field through his work right here in Florida, at Chick-fil-A. It was the decision that transformed his entire life.
And so, when the restaurant in Naples needed his help, he packed up his 1994 Bronco and headed south. Nathan lived in a hotel and worked Monday through Saturday, open to close, for three months. It was a very difficult time. But, on October 1st of 2000, a Business Consultant from Chick-fil-A contacted him to see if he was interested in becoming the owner of the Naples store.
During Nathan’s three years in Naples, sales and profits grew. He had built a great team. At about that same time, the DeSoto Square mall location owner decided to move on after making little profit over six years. This was the restaurant Nathan had started in. It was close to his heart, not to mention family and friends. But, when Nathan asked if he could take it over, they questioned it. He had built himself a successful business in Naples; why would he want to take over a store that had not been profitable in years?
Under Nathan’s guidance, the DeSoto Square store flourished, going from $800,000 in sales in 2002 to $1.8 million in 2013, outgrowing that facility and moving to Cortez Plaza in August of 2013. According to Nathan, if you tell him he can’t do something, he will prove you wrong. Today, Nathan is the owner of the #10 Chick-fil-A for sales and #3 for transactions in the nation and hoping to be approved for a second location. “It’s been quite a ride!” he exclaims.
What is Nathan’s secret to success? “Stay focused on the people that we work with and dine with, and all else will come,” he explains. “And Chick-fil-A offers the best products in a clean and safe environment, by people who really care.” “And they don’t cut corners,” he continues, “everything is hand-breaded, and we use name brand condiments. It really is an extensive process. And the speed of service is huge.” According to Nathan, the restaurant serves approximately 200 cars an hour; the record is 265. No other chain comes close. “It’s all about convenience. Today, most people want it how they want it and when they want it.”
Conveniences such as mobile curbside are growing rapidly. And, though many restaurants are offering home and office delivery through a third party, Chick-fil-A has decided they may be able to do it even better themselves. Nathan volunteered to be one of the first 100 stores to test it out about a year and a half ago, and now there are about 300 stores offering delivery. “As the needs of our customers evolve, we need to evolve as well.”
“I love my job!” he exclaims, “It’s just so great. I get to make an impact on young people’s lives each and every day. Some of them work here, and some of them don’t. And young people are so impressionable. I love that I can show them that you can run a great business on Christian principles. And not just the kids, but all of our customers as well.”
When asked what message he has for young people, Nathan responded with, “It really comes down to two things. Being a faithful steward and a positive influence. And that is the Chick-fil-A Corporate Statement.” “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all we come in contact with.”
Chick-fil-A was even instrumental in bringing him back together with the girl that became his wife. While Nathan was getting an education at Bradenton Christian School, Cynthia was at Manatee High. They met at a basketball game and dated for about two years during their freshman and sophomore years, but eventually broke up, and Cynthia and her family moved to Georgia.
It wasn’t until about 12 years later that Nathan spotted her parents at the DeSoto Square mall while he was working at Chick-fil-A. After catching up with them for a bit, he asked them to say “Hi“ to Cynthia. And soon after, she reached out to him. Nathan went to Georgia to see her for New Year’s Eve, and they were married on April 9th, three months and nine days later.
In the beginning, Cynthia was happy to work and help at the restaurant when needed until their daughter, Cooper, was born in 2009. Now, she is a great ambassador for the brand and the first to help a family in need or in a crisis. The kids, now 10 and 12, love to come in on Saturday mornings. They like to help with the hashbrowns and the condiments at the drive-through. “Even my mom works for me. She is the best employee I ever hired!” Nathan confessed.
And now, after much success for Nathan, it’s all about giving back and doing what you can to help others who may be in need. “The more you give, the more God provides. And not just money, but your time and your treasures.” There are two organizations that are dear to his heart. Bradenton Christian School and Solve Maternity Homes.
Bradenton Christian is not just the school Nathan graduated from, his mom was the Assistant to the Principal, and his son Alvin attends the school now. He even had the same Kindergarten teacher like his Dad. “I just love what the school stands for and does for the kids.” Nathan states.
The second is Solve Maternity Homes, a faith-based nonprofit organization that provides cost-free housing, support & hope for women and teens with unplanned pregnancies. His mom volunteered there for years and is now the Director.
And, of course, his Chick-fil-A family. “Those kids are like my own kids, and I try to help and support them any way that I can. As my business grows, so does my ability to help people grow. You can’t have one without the other.” Nathan confides. Nathan currently employs about 180 amazing team members and is hiring.