When you walk into one of Jerald Huggins’ three restaurants, you’re greeted by cheerful, enthusiastic team members. Even though it’s busy, you notice everyone seems glad to be there, from the families in line to the people behind the counter. The place is sparkling clean and upbeat music is playing. When your order is delivered to the table, the food is fresh and delicious. You thank your server and he or she responds with a smile. “My pleasure,” they say, offering to refill your lemonade or sweet tea.
Is this heaven?
No, it’s Chick-fil-A.
Huggins ’97 is the owner and operator of the three Chick-fil-A locations in College Station, as well as the brand consultant for the Chick-fil-A locations on the Texas A&M campus. It’s a career he never anticipated—and a career he feels immeasurably grateful to have.
“We’re on a mission to be the world’s most caring company,” he said, referencing the corporate vision that guides the actions at every Chick-fil-A location. From the customer experience to community involvement, an integral part of the brand is putting people above profits. “This business is about more than making money,” he said emphatically.
The most important part of the brand for Huggins is not great chicken, but great service. “We want to serve people, and we want to serve them well,” he added. “We want to treat everybody with honor, dignity and respect. It’s our goal to serve people a great meal and give them an opportunity to receive great hospitality.”
Huggins started his career with Chick-fil-A during his undergraduate years at Texas A&M, at the store on Briarcrest Drive in Bryan, just a few miles from campus. Majoring in agricultural systems management, he soon became intrigued with food processing on a large scale and initially intended to work for a food manufacturer or distributor that involved managing supply chains. (He interviewed with Blue Bell Creameries and looked at several other companies nationwide). However, by graduation, he was sold on Chick-fil-A’s culture. “It just felt like the right fit for me,” he said.
What started as a part-time job became a full-time passion as he grew with the company after graduation. He moved from team member, to team leader, then to store manager. He continued to move up the management pipeline and became an interim store operator in Laredo, Texas, where he learned the nuts and bolts of the job. While he’s not working in a strict agricultural setting, he said his Texas A&M degree has been very useful. “Agriculture is obviously a huge part of the food cycle of a restaurant,” Huggins said. The ag systems degree is about managing people, money, and machines—and that’s precisely what he does at Chick-fil-A.
After five years with the company, Huggins was granted his own store in Houston. Six years later, he was offered the opportunity to return to College Station to operate the Chick-fil-A on Texas Avenue. He jumped at the chance to come back home to Aggieland. At that time, he was single, and it was a good opportunity to take a risk and start something new. Besides, “College Station was where I wanted to be,” he said.
Huggins has continued to build his business, adding one store and then another. His newest store at Jones Crossing opened in September 2019.
Not only has Chick-fil-A offered Huggins a career he loves, but it also connected him to his wife, Hayley, who worked for the company’s corporate office in Atlanta. After a long-distance courtship, the couple wed in 2010 and settled in College Station, where they are glad to be raising their son.
The couple recently made a gift to endow the Hayley Huggins and Jerald Huggins ’97 Biological and Agricultural Engineering Undergraduate scholarship, but their involvement at Texas A&M goes further. Huggins also guest lectures in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, specifically on the topic of “queueing theory”—the mathematical study of waiting lines. As a restaurant owner, successfully managing wait lines is something he well understands.
Of his 300 employees, a good number are Aggies, both current and former students. He enjoys sharing his experiences by working with interns from the agriculture systems management degree and has hired a few of these majors after they graduate. Huggins is also proud of the leadership scholarships Chick-fil-A offers employees who are college students. Chick-fil-A is known for taking great care of its employees, and these scholarships are just one of the perks. While most fast food restaurants have a turnover rate near 100% in any given year, Chick-fil-A’s is usually closer to 60%. Part of the incentive to stay with the chain is exactly what Huggins experienced—the opportunity to move into leadership roles and grow with the company.
Now, Huggins enjoys paying it forward and helping others on his team find opportunities for growth. “I want to support their dreams and goals,” he concluded, noting that his greatest joy is impacting people’s lives and supporting his employees outside of work. “I love to see people succeed.”