How one sandwich changed Hillary Davidson’s life
We’ve all probably had a meal that was so good, it felt life-altering. But few of us have been so wowed, we quit our job just to sell that meal.
But for Hillary Davidson, all it took was a sandwich to rock her world forever.
"I was in software sales for almost 10 years," Davidson says. "I ended up taking a VP position and decided that the corporate world was something I didn’t want to do any more. So I had a little bit of money, took some time off, about a year."
During that downtime, a friend persuaded her to eat at a Jersey Mike’s Subs in Dallas. "Persuaded" may be putting it mildly; strange as it may sound now, Davidson never liked sandwiches all that much.
"My friend said, ‘Come on, you’ve never had a sandwich like this.’ I was like, OK, I’ll do it," she says. "I sat down, had one and the rest is history."
A couple weeks after biting into The Sandwich That Changed Her Destiny, she began researching the corporation and franchise opportunities, learning everything she could about the legalities and logistics of owning her own sub shop.
"My passion has always been in the food industry. I’ve always wanted to be a food critic, but that doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. So restaurant ownership has always been kind of exciting to me. And that’s really what brings me here today," she smiles as she looks around her eight-month-old restaurant on Preston Road across from Valley View Mall. "I just took the plunge, quit the corporate world and said, "It’s a good sandwich, let’s just do it."’
Davidson is nothing if not passionate. To most people, quitting a well-paying, secure job to start a business that she knew nothing about might sound crazy. But for those who’ve met Davidson, it comes as no surprise: Despite a petite frame and friendly smile, she can do anything she sets her mind to. She is not only charming, her enthusiasm is infectious.
Her employees trust and respect her; her customers downright love her. On my first visit to her restaurant, Davidson was out. While enjoying my first Jersey Mike’s sandwich, no fewer than seven people walked through the line and asked where Hillary was over the course of 20 minutes: A small group of beautiful women (which made that Jersey Mike’s look like some sort of North Dallas speakeasy lesbian bar), a mother and her children and two men who ordered by number without ever looking up at the menu. They all knew her by name, and had she been there, she’d certainly know theirs, too.
Davidson has totally invested in herself, her customers and her staff of nine (which includes her sister, who’s also lesbian). She puts in long hours, sometimes seven days a week, and she has to be prepared to do anything that needs doing, from baking the bread to cleaning the toilets. There’s no task she would ask an employee to do that she wouldn’t do herself.
"It’s been very fulfilling. I have never worked so hard in my life, but it’s fun. We have a great team. The rewards outweigh the hard work," she says, which is evident in her plans to open three more locations.
"I believe in this product," she says.
At her current location (and all Jersey Mike’s), they make chicken and tuna salads fresh every morning, roast certified Angus beef, bake their own bread and slice all meats and cheeses to order for each sandwich, salad or wrap. At lunchtime, the line snakes between the tables, filled with customers who are fanatical about these sandwiches and the lingo that goes along with them. ("Mike’s Way" is code for onions, lettuce tomato; "the juice" is a signature blend of oil, red wine vinegar and spices.)
According to Davidson, Jersey Mike’s corporate offices encourage this kind of community involvement, and also respect the equality of their LGBT employees and franchise owners.
"Another thing that made me choose this franchise— and this is something that’s very near and dear to my heart — was, we spend a lot of time giving back to the community. This morning, for example, we had 150 box lunches go out for free to a children’s learning center here in Dallas. That’s important to me," Davidson says. "I did an event with the YWCA, all their women’s shelters, when we first opened. I enjoy giving back locally."
A member of the Human Right Campaign, Davidson will be donating food to organizers and volunteers of Black Tie Dinner this year, with hopes to work with and donate food to more local LGBT organizations in the future.
"It’s a great company," she says. "I love what I do." And all because of a #7 on white, made "Mike’s Way."
"Still my favorite," she laughs. "Even though I’ve eaten it almost every day for the past year and a half."
Now that’s a powerful sandwich.
Davidson and her team from Jersey Mike’s will be on hand at Lee Park immediately following the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, handing out sandwich samples.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2009.