BUFORD -- Jamey Dyer got his hands wet, along with his feet, as the saying goes, at his first job with Huddle House.
A then 12-year-old Dyer started out as a dishwasher in 1988 at the just-opened Clayton location, where his mother had been hired on as a server.
Fast forward to Sept. 27, when Dyer, now 34, took over as franchisee of the Buford Huddle House after a 19-year career with the company that started with dish soap and elbow grease.
"The first Friday night (the Clayton store) was open my mother was working third shift, but me and my dad went down earlier to get dinner to try the new place in town out," Dyer remembered. His menu selection? The rib-eye steak.
When the restaurant's manager came over to talk with him and his father, Dyer inquired about a job.
"I asked him if he needed any help," Dyer remembered. "He said, 'Actually, yeah, we're looking for a dishwasher, we're a lot busier than we expected to be and we need somebody to help the servers keep up on the dishes.'"
Dyer said he'd take it.
"On third shift I came in and worked with my mother," he said.
A couple weeks after he started, the restaurant began having difficulty finding cooks.
"One thing led to another, I started doing some prep, cutting onions and things like that and making waffle batter," Dyer said, "and then all of a sudden, next thing you know, I'm cooking on the grill Saturday and Sunday mornings."
Quite a bit of responsibility for someone so young.
"I was 6 feet tall when I was 12 years old," Dyer said, "so not a lot of people knew I was a young person. Thanks to my parents I was a very mature 12."
Dyer worked at the Clayton Huddle House for eight years, moving up through the ranks.
"As I got older, they gave me a little more responsibility as a shift leader and then as an assistant manager who ran the store when the owner was not there," he said. "Then I became the full-blown manager."
At 19, Dyer was managing staff 15 to 20 years his senior.
"I was the youngest person there and I actually managed my mother," he said.
Dyer left the Clayton restaurant to open and manage a Huddle House in Seneca, S.C., and from there, he went on to become a managing partner in a North Carolina franchise. After a brief stint as a kitchen manager with an O'Charley's restaurant, Dyer returned to the company he has worked for more than half his life in a corporate position as the training general manager for the Cumming location. Dyer was promoted to area manager of operations and training before being approached about the opportunity to become a franchisee.
"Any business you go into is a risk but I know Huddle House works," he said. "The systems, the business plan, the models, the niche that we have in the industry, it absolutely works and is well positioned for the future. This is a clear path to retirement for me. So here I am."
Not only is Dyer the franchise owner, he also manages the Buford location.
On a typical work day, Dyer climbs out of bed at 4 a.m. and arrives at the restaurant by 5, where he fires up the equipment and starts making grits, gravy and biscuits. After taking care of some paperwork, he makes a prep list for the day and gets to work on food prep. Dyer cooks from 6 a.m. until about 9 a.m.
Two to three days a week, Dyer is the cook on shift.
Why take on duties he could hire someone else to do?
"Obviously It saves labor dollars," Dyer said. "The more money I don't pay people, the more money I keep in my pocket, but mainly I do it because it is still fun for me. I could sit in the office all day looking at spreadsheets and reports and figure out how to grow my business and everything, but how I grow my business is actually being out here with the customers making them want to come back more frequently, being part of the community."
Dyer said his Huddle House franchise is his path to retirement.
"I have a goal in mind of a nice, round figure to be 50 years old, I want to retire," he said. But although he already has his goals in mind, Dyer isn't sure what he will do with an abundance of free time.
"I'm the kind of guy that will take a day off and I'll wake up maybe an hour later than I normally do and I'll kind of sit there and go, 'OK, now what?'" Dyer said. "Somebody needs to train me on what to do in my off time. I'm used to training people how to flip eggs, how to act at work and how to manage stores. Somebody needs to tell me what to do when I have a day off."