A Naples family calls Chick-fil-A “home”

By Arlene Colcombe
The Good News

Young Pedro Jason (“PJ”) Rodriguez had no idea when he took his first job as a teenager that he was making a decision that would impact the rest of his life.

It almost didn’t happen.

Alex Rodriguez, operator of a local Chick-fil-A restaurant, probably wouldn’t have hired young PJ – if they weren’t second cousins and PJ’s aunt hadn’t used her parental influence to get PJ his first job.

And PJ is the first to admit he needed that job to help keep him out of trouble. Although he was only 15 at the time, he was smoking, drinking and using drugs.

PJ’s first assignment at the fast-food chicken chain was squeezing lemons for fresh lemonade. He squeezed for three hour a day. He remembers, “With every lemon I said to myself, ‘I gotta do something else!'” 

Today, PJ is a 31-year-old father and the owner and operator of a very successful free-standing Chick-fil-A in Naples. By every appearance, you would never guess he was once a wayward teen.

Making progress
As a young person working his way up the Chick-fil-A ladder, PJ constantly observed his boss.

“Alex always conducted himself with character and integrity. I never knew what it was,” PJ explains, “but there was always something about him different from any other man I ever met.”

Alex was simply demonstrating the corporate purpose that Chick-fil-A values: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Meeting his wife
As young PJ continued to be mentored by his boss and cousin, Alex, at a new location in Atlanta, he met a fellow employee who would have a profound impact on his life. Her name was Nina, and in addition to working part-time at Chick-fil-A, she also worked as a model.

Alex invited both employees to church, and in 1997, PJ and Nina gave their lives to the Lord.

Meanwhile, romance blossomed between PJ and Nina, and he decided to propose to her during the lunch hour rush at the Chick-fil-A where they worked. PJ figured it was a sure-fire way to get Nina to say yes. 

“I could embarrass her … and she wouldn’t say, ‘No,’ in front of all those people!” he recalls.

Working their way up
The young newlyweds continued to work at Chick-fil-A and made several moves with the company. They started having children, and it became a stressful time in the young family’s lives. PJ dreamed of having his own store.

Still, the Chick-fil-A organization did not promote PJ to owner and operator, and they even vaguely indicated that it might never happen. 

“Through all the turmoil, I didn’t realize what God was doing, the character He was building in me and my family,” PJ says.

He remembers how the words of Ephesians 6:7 sustained him during the difficult and uncertain times: Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.

Finally the perseverance paid off. PJ and Nina were relocated to Naples, where PJ got his own store to run.

Serving chicken … and serving the Lord As the Chick-fil-A staff prepares for the lunch crowd and hungry guest start to stream in, PJ quietly gives instructions, takes a moment to greet arriving employees and customers, and takes an interest in the regular customers he’s come to know so well over the years. One of them, Naples resident Ken Larson, comes in almost daily with his wife, Evie. Ken enjoys the good service and good food at the Naples Chick-fil-A. 

“Everything has always been perfect. The employees are nice people who always seem to be happy,” he says.

As a retired United Telephone VP, Larson knows that employees are what make any business successful.

A family affair
After school, Nina frequently drops by with their four children. They might have a drink or snack and see daddy at work. Today they show off report cards. With another child on the way in April, Nina still possesses a model’s grace and glowing countenance. 

“I love the company. There’s no other company like Chick-fil-A,” she says.

And the couple concurs about the profound impact Chick-fil-A has had on their lives. It brought both of them to the place where they were saved. 

“It brought me out of the junk I was living in,” PJ bluntly says.

In addition, they feel they learned the principles of having a good marriage through the example and fellowship of their previous boss, Alex, and his wife Nancy.

PJ credits Chick-fil-A’s unique mindset with all of his successes.  “We have to strive for excellence and not settle for mediocrity. We don’t serve a mediocre God.”

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