Atlanta native Felicia Parks graduated from Chamblee High School in 1982 and signed up for the Army right away, delaying college to satisfy her “need to serve.” Following basic training in Fort Jackson, Felicia repaired microwave systems (26V) in the Panama Canal.
“At 18 years old, I was in charge of an on-call team of four specialists,” says Felicia. “Having that amount of responsibility at such a young age forced me to grow up quickly,” she adds.
Completing four years of service, she went on to earn her bachelor and master’s degrees and enjoy a long, successful career as a government employee. Felicia started as a Supervisory Loan Specialist at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and currently serves as Branch Chief at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), managing HUD-owned properties in Florida, Georgia and the Caribbean.
While enjoying a successful career in government, Parks never lost sight of her dream to own a small business. Encouraged by her sons to follow her dreams, Felicia put her “spare change” to work and opened a Jimmy John’s franchise three years ago.
At her niece’s suggestion, “I did some research on Jimmy John’s, and I liked the numbers, the way they treated their franchisees, and the product,” says Parks.
As she was inexperienced in the quick service restaurant business, Parks says the prospect was daunting at first.
“Opening a business on my own as a single woman was tough—the loans, the permits, the construction—I wasn’t sure how to negotiate. I had a lot of anxiety, but with support from my sons and Jimmy John’s, it slowly got easier,” says Parks, who opened her East Point Atlanta Jimmy John’s in July 2015.
Another of Parks’ passions was the desire to help young people. As a mother of two boys, she was acutely aware of some of the traps young African-American men could fall into.
Since opening her store, Parks has employed 75 people—her youngest manager is just 19.
“I wanted to work with kids, show them a positive atmosphere, show that them that, ‘hey, you can own your own business.’ The rewards I get working with them have gone beyond what I could have imagined,” says Parks.
To that end, she is partnering with local schools, Brookville Elementary and Bunche Middle School, to encourage good behavior. The program involves rewarding students with a voucher for a free Jimmy John’s sandwich when they do something good.
She’s also establishing relationships with local high schools, Therrell High and Banneker High, to help students hone job-seeking and interviewing skills.