Christ-centered service with a smile
HPU alumni couple opens new Chick-fil-A in Brownwood
by Dr. Kalie Lowrie '06
Bridget (Wells) Jones ’08, the new owner and operator of Brownwood’s Chick-fil-A, is a familiar face to the Howard Payne University family. She and her husband, Jonathan ’08, both grew up in Brownwood and graduated from HPU. The free-standing Chick-fil-A location opened in November 2020, and the friendly staff and delicious chicken are popular favorites in the community, as evidenced by the full parking lot and ever-flowing drive-thru line.
It was not always their plan to return to Brownwood. After graduation, Bridget and Jonathan got married and moved to Belton. Bridget started teaching elementary and middle school, and Jonathan was a teacher and coach. In 2012, Jonathan’s coaching career took the couple to Leander ISD in the Austin area. When their oldest daughter, Rylin, was just six months old, Bridget was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The young family faced hard days, but God was faithful as Bridget went through treatments and was able to beat the cancer. After her recovery, she began tutoring students and had the opportunity to buy a local franchise, Just Between Friends Williamson County, a consignment event business for children’s and maternity items. After several years of running and managing the business, Bridget won Franchise of the Year in 2017. As a business owner, Bridget sought to pour into her team and the community and give back in every way she could.
Around the same time, fellow HPU couple Joshua ’09 and Kelly (Hulett) ’09 Cunningham purchased a Chick-fil-A franchise in the San Antonio area. Bridget followed the couple’s journey on social media, and she reached out to Joshua about what it would take to become a Chick-fil-A franchise owner. In 2017, she began the seven-step interview process through Chick-fil-A, along with approximately 40,000 other applicants. Bridget made it through six stages of the process and received an answer that she would not be moving forward in the process for owning and operating a Chick-fil-A at that time.
Undeterred, Bridget connected with an operator in the Cedar Park area and worked her way from the bottom to the top, working every position possible in the restaurant. The experience gave Bridget new insight and understanding for each position, the hiring process and various aspects of the restaurant business as a whole, which was invaluable. In 2019, she was a restaurant director and reapplied through the Chick-fil-A franchise process.
“It was the most God-appointed opportunity,” Bridget said.
The Joneses desired to stay in Texas if possible, but were open to the possibility of getting selected for a franchise elsewhere in the country from Detroit to somewhere in California.
On her second attempt, the application process had been lengthened to nine steps and the applications had doubled from 40,000 to almost 80,000. In the past, Chick-fil-A has typically opened 100-200 restaurants a year and only about 10 percent of owner/operators are women, making Bridget’s odds even tougher.
At a recruiting event in Dallas, Bridget ran into one of the Chick-fil-A leaders who interviewed her the first time. He remembered Bridget and her desire to work in a rural area. When she mentioned she grew up in Brownwood, his eyes lit up and he told her they were preparing to build a free-standing location in Brownwood. The Joneses saw God’s hand at work and Bridget was encouraged to continue the application journey.
"Although it’s a business, we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus."
In February 2020, Bridget was selected to be the owner/operator of the new Brownwood Chick-fil-A location. Jonathan became an operating partner and together they began to plan for their new adventure. The Jones family moved to Brownwood in March, just weeks before the pandemic shut down the state and nation. The following months were filled with planning, interviewing, strategizing and preparing to launch the new location in November 2020. The restaurant added 110 new jobs to the area and the Joneses desired to make their restaurant a premier employer in the community. While Bridget serves as the owner of the franchise, she views the ownership as a partnership with her husband. Jonathan serves in a variety of capacities within the restaurant and builds relationships with businesses and individuals within the community.
“We have had a lot of really hard days and really great days,” Bridget said. “It’s a blessing to work alongside Jonathan. We try to leave work at work and be home with our kids in the evenings.”
The couples’ two children, Rylin and Braxton, are often at the restaurant and get to experience the family business first-hand.
“It’s been exciting to see where the Lord has taken us and grown us together as a family and spiritually as we have put our faith in God,” Jonathan said. “I was excited to see Bridget do this, to show her perseverance and grit when told ‘no.’ She kept going even when the end result was not guaranteed. For her to live that in front of our kids and show that type of grit for them at such a young age is inspiring. She let me chase my dreams for 12 years as a coach and now it’s an honor to be her biggest cheerleader. God has His fingerprints all over it.”
Howard Payne has become even more special to the couple since returning to the community as alumni. During college, Bridget worked two or three different jobs at a time to pay for school. She also transferred into HPU as a junior after attending Texas A&M University for two years. The familiarity with professors and staff was encouraging to her and, as she looks back now, she sees how God led her to HPU.
“The more we’ve grown professionally,” Bridget shared, “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how many HPU grads we run into in different fields.”
Now, their restaurant employs eight HPU alumni, including several in leadership positions, and at least 12 current HPU students. Bridget loves to hire students and works with their schedules to ensure they can stay engaged on campus and still work at the restaurant.
The background Bridget and Jonathan have in education gives them a deeper empathy for students and the college experience.
When the restaurant first opened, the couple desired for their business to be operationally excellent. They wanted to get food out the door safely and deliver an excellent experience for the customer. Now, after several months, they are able to focus more on community connections through catering services, sponsorships, developing a leadership program at Brownwood High School and several other endeavors.
Inside the restaurant, Jonathan sees their location as a place where people can come, see a smiling face, enjoy good food and rest.
“Although it’s a business, we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Jonathan said. “We love to serve the people who come here. It’s a safe, family-friendly place, which is huge for us.”
The Jones family mission has been to serve and love people.
“Our jobs may have changed,” Bridget said, “but our mission remains the same.”
Photo #1: Jonathan ’08 and Bridget ’08 Jones sit in the lobby of Brownwood’s Chick-fil-A franchise.
Photo #2: Located on East Commerce Street near Pecan Bayou, Brownwood’s new Chick-Fil-A franchise opened in November 2020.