When Justin and Jennifer Jones stepped off the plane in Nebraska for the first time, they were wearing shorts and sandals – it was March.
And while they were highly unprepared for the snowy weather, the southern-born couple came ready for a new adventure and lots of hard work.
They came to open Nebraska’s first Raising Cane’s restaurant.
That was 10 years ago. Today, Justin is the owner of five Raising Cane’s locations in Nebraska, but his story starts with a lot of self doubt and a complete lack of clarity.
Back in 1996 Justin was a college student at Louisiana State University who had no clue what to do.
But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Justin put himself through college working construction jobs, fitting pipes, delivering home appliances and loading up 18-wheelers at night. He changed his major five or six times until he decided to graduate with a degree in general studies.
A few months before graduation, Justin attended a college fair. He wandered from booth to booth, talking with recruiters and asking about potential jobs. Then he saw the Raising Cane’s booth, so he marched up to the recruiter and asked, ‘So, how could I own one of these restaurants?’
It was a pretty bold question for a kid who had no direction, but after the recruiter told Justin more about the company’s values and goals, Justin submitted a job application and at the end of the month he was training for the position of store manager.
Honestly, Justin said, he took the job to give his resume a boost. He thought having ‘management’ on his list would be more impressive and lead to a better job down the road.
But not everyone understood his job choice. Justin had just spent seven years pursuing a college degree and he ended up in the food service industry? It became a bit of a joke, but Justin didn’t care.
He was quickly starting to see that his job at Raising Cane’s was more than just a resume booster. For the next three years, Justin helped manage, launch, grow and sustain both new and veteran restaurants in Louisiana. He traveled like crazy and slept in small increments. It was insane, but oddly normal to Justin.
For the first time in his life Justin said he felt like he was doing something that mattered. He was creating something new, helping his team succeed and enjoying every minute of the craziness.
And then in 2006, Justin got the call he’d been waiting for – a chance to run his own franchise.
That’s when he and his wife uprooted their lives and moved to Lincoln – a place with no family and nothing familiar, just Raising Cane’s.
The launch of their first location at 48th and R streets received an overwhelming amount of attention and support during the first few months of business, but things eventually slowed down. Justin remembers talking with Jennifer during their first Christmas in Nebraska about how they could really give back to the community, to show people that they weren’t just another restaurant in the community, but the community’s restaurant.
In the coming months they instituted coat and food drives and began donating a part of their proceeds to Lincoln as a whole. People started to notice that not only was the food tasty and a quality product, but what Justin and Jennifer were doing was real.
It’s with this mindset that Justin has successfully opened a total of five Raising Cane’s locations in Nebraska.
These days, Justin doesn’t have to wear as many hats around the office as he used to. He’s no longer the accountant, IT guy, facilities manager, developer and store operator. He can delegate these roles to his team, he can look at the big picture and see what’s on the horizon for Raising Cane’s – he’s stepping back, but not stepping away.
Justin said it’s so strange to think back to being a clueless 18-year-old college freshman. He would have never dreamed of being a Raising Cane’s owner, or working his way up and making five locations his own…never.
But that’s just the point, he said. It’s what he often talks about when he speaks to college students. He reminds them to pursue what they love instead of a paycheck, because that’s where his story has shaped him the most.
Making $9/hour as a college grad wasn’t his plan, it wasn’t ideal, it was probably the worst plan he could have devised for himself, but it’s where his story came to life.
Some people might be bashful about being clueless or working at a fried chicken joint, but that’s not Justin. He’s proud of his story, he’s proud of his work and when he heads home at the end of the day, that’s what matters.