February 20 marked a monumental day for the New England region. Chick-fil-A, a predominately southern-based fast food chain, opened its first franchise in Chicopee, Mass.
Dr. Robert Hewes, the former chair of the Rehabilitation and Disability Studies Department at Springfield College, is now running the new franchise and he couldn’t be happier. Hewes, who was a faculty member at Springfield for 16 years, felt a change of direction taking place in his life and knew it was the right decision to make.
“It really came down to a stirring of the heart to really want to lead and influence young lives,” said Hewes, who served as a minister for many years prior to his newly found position. “I think God was working in my heart and calling me into doing something a little bit different.”
Working for Chick-fil-A for two summers in college, Hewes had been familiar with the establishment for many years. When the word got out that a franchise was headed up north, Hewes took it upon himself to apply, and hoped for the best.
“I just felt this rustling and when the opportunity came that they [Chick-fil-A] arrived in New England, I took a chance and said, ‘Let’s see what God wants to do with this,’” Hewes said.
With the normal selection process taking anywhere from 18 months to three years, Hewes was floored when he was selected in only four months.
“I can’t explain how it happened that fast,” he said.
Although Hewes holds a high standard when it comes to service, to him, it is all about the kids. Hewes has made it a point to make it known that every one of his 90 employees is respected and cared about.
“I asked the question to all my team members, ‘For how many of you is this a first-time job?’ I bet 30 to 35 young lives raised their hands and I almost broke down in tears,” said Hewes, as he reminisced of the opening dinner that was held in the Basketball Hall of Fame. “Thirty-five young lives, this is their first job, and I have the opportunity to help them grow, influence them and to be a positive role model for them.”
To Hewes, providing jobs to local kids is what he takes pride in the most, but this doesn’t mean that he isn’t working equally as hard. Since the restaurant’s opening, Hewes has spent every day (Monday through Saturday) working from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
“I’m out sweeping the parking lot, sweeping the floor and mopping,” Hewes said. “I am pouring into it; I am investing into it, mostly because I want to be a role model.”
All the time that Hewes and his team have spent working hard has paid off extremely quickly. The Chicopee franchise had the highest grossing sales in the entire chain (over 1,800 restaurants) last week and was in the 95th percentile for sales on its opening weekend.
While Hewes loves his new job and all of his responsibilities, he openly admits to missing Springfield College dearly.
“I was doing it for so long, I was leading departments, I was teaching classes and pouring into those young lives,” Hewes said. “I miss it a lot. When September rolled around it was really, really, hard.”
Even though Hewes still misses the Springfield community and all he had to offer it, he knows that what he is doing with Chick-Fil-A is something special.
“This became an opportunity to pursue and I didn’t want to say no to the opportunity and investing into the community, my own family as well as these many, many team members.”