Chick-Fil-A Restaurateur Impacts Local Community and Nation of Niger
- Stacy Hawkins Adams
- 2007 8 Mar
He’s a businessman who seeks to give until it hurts of his time, his wealth and his heart.
”I want to stand before God one day and be able to say, ‘I gave everything I had because of my love for You,’” says the 38-year-old Chick-fil-A restaurant owner and operator.
Six years ago, Rice switched from pursuing a career in counseling and mentoring youths to buy a Chick-fil-A franchise. He started with minimal cash, monumental prayers and a goal to use the business as a source of revenue while he focused on his duties as a church youth director.
He soon realized that his position in the business arena could also be a form of ministry.
Rice has used his influence to impact residents of his local community and in the African nation of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world.
When he obtained approval in the late 1990s to open a Chick-Fil-A franchise, he prayed for success in the food court location of a modest, Richmond, Va. shopping mall.
Within a year, his efforts there garnered him the opportunity to buy a larger, stand-alone store in a nearby suburb.
On the day contractors prepared to pour concrete for the building’s foundation, Rice and his wife, Jen, showed up with a Bible.
They placed it where they had been told a particular register would be located. Construction halted and employees removed their hard hats while the couple prayed at that spot for God’s wisdom and favor.Rice promised God that when the store opened in the summer of 2001, it would be more than just a place to eat; it would meet people’s needs.
Several months later, he posted signs inviting customers to a weekly morning Bible study with a complimentary breakfast. Those who came spread the word and attendance remains strong today.
On a recent Tuesday at 7:15 a.m., 22 people sat with Rice at adjacent tables in the front of the restaurant and dissected several verses in the Book of John. The group of mostly business owners and retirees exchanged ideas and interpretations of the scriptural passages.
Inspired comments floated above the occasional din in the restaurant’s kitchen: The need to focus on spiritual vs. material blessings; learning to trust in God before relying on Him; accepting manna from heaven, but seeking food for the soul.
Rice says he has experienced firsthand the rewards in following those biblical principles as he integrates faith with work.
He now owns three Chick-Fil-A locations in the Richmond region. The stand-alone store where he buried the Bible is ranked eight out of the 1,300 Chick-fil-A stores nationwide.
That restaurant also has a reputation as a community partner, always eager to host school spirit nights and donate food for school and nonprofit functions.
Much of this coincides with Chick-fil-A’s corporate purpose - for owners and employees to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to them.
However, for Rice, that purpose has broad borders.
A 2003 mission trip to Niger with a group of leaders from his church fueled Rice’s desire to provide long-term service and evangelism in the country. Niger is primarily Muslim and ranks last on the United Nation’s Development Fund index of human development.
“I felt the Lord saying, ‘I want this to be a life-changing experience for you,’” Rice recalls. “’Leverage your business to impact this nation.’”
Soon he was pursuing ideas on how his restaurants could raise $100,000 to build Christian middle schools for students whose education typically ends once they finish elementary school.
He started by hosting “Niger Night” at the stand-alone restaurant and donating a portion of all the sales on a particular evening to the country. When a marketing representative suggested he host a dodgeball tournament, he agreed to pray about it, despite his skepticism.
An answer arrived at 2 a.m. that week as he fed his newborn son and sat bleary-eyed in front of the television. ESPN broadcast the National Amateur Dodgeball Tournament and shared details about the sport’s increasing popularity.
The first Chick-fil-A Dodgeball Tournament in Richmond in 2005 yielded $68,000, which was used to build a middle school for 100 students in Niger and to assist a Richmond charity that serves inner-city children.
Last year, the tournament raked in $88,000 to help build a second middle school and assist a charity affiliated with a Richmond children’s hospital.
Rice is confident he’ll reach his $100,000 goal soon and looks forward to building eight more middle schools in Niger. Eventually, he hopes to create a fund for students’s tuition and cover teacher salaries.
As another Tuesday Bible study wraps up and the 2007 Dodgeball fundraiser is mentioned, Rice redirects praise to a worthier source.
“I realized a long time ago that we can do anything if we’re in the Lord’s will,” Rice says. “This whole experience with the Bible study and with the Dodgeball tournament, it’s exciting to be where God wants me to be. I feel Him working through me.”
For more information about Howe Rice’s Niger project and other ministry efforts to help the people of Niger, visit http://www.linkniger.com/.
Stacy Hawkins Adams is the author of the Christian fiction novels Nothing but the Right Thing and Speak To My Heart. She is also a freelance writer and inspirational columnist. Stacy often speaks to audiences about the blessings that come with authentically living one's faith. She and her husband, Donald, have two children.