Tammy Holmberg cracked open a fortune cookie and found a prophetic message.
On one side it read: A small gift can bring joy to the whole family. On the other side was a Chinese word and its English translation: "Mayor."
The good fortune came just days before Holmberg launched her campaign to become Brandon's next honorary mayor, and the cookie strengthened her resolve.
Holmberg, co-owner of the Chick-fil-A on Causeway Boulevard, now holds the distinction of honorary mayor after raising $25,125 and a nearly equal amount of in-kind donations for charity. Over lunch at the newly remodeled Chick-fil-A (where else?), we talked about her new position and how she and husband Paul found their way into the "Eat Mor Chikin" business. Pull up a chair and join us.
ERNEST: Let me start with a tongue-in-cheek question. When you hear McDonald's advertise its "Southern-style" chicken sandwich, don't you just want to go over and slap Ronald McDonald?
TAMMY: Honestly, no. The greatest form of a compliment someone can give you is to copy you. They knew they had nothing on us. So they had to try and copy us. But I've had one, and they still don't have the recipe. They don't have the secret. It's not Chick-fil-A. How did you get into the Chick-fil-A business?
My husband was selling cars (in 1985) and they had a car show at a mall in Racine, Wis. He was walking the mall and he said, "Look at this, a little chicken place." He called me at home and I was with my daughter, she was about a year and a half old. He said, "You and Amber need to meet me down here at the mall for dinner." In the course of the week he was there, he must have eaten there at least two or three times a day.
So that was your first taste, and eventually you decided to apply for a franchise?
Yes. About four years after we filled out the paperwork, I said, "Are you ever going to do anything with this?" He said, "Nahh, just throw it all away." So I threw it all away and the next day, this lady with a big Southern accent called and said, "Is Paul still interested in Chick-fil-A?" I just started laughing because I think God has a sense of humor. We were willing to let it go and it came back to us. To make a long story short, he interviewed and he took over that same store at that mall in Racine where he was selling cars.
How did you end up in Brandon?
So we started at that mall store in 1992 and turned the store around. We decided we wanted to try a (freestanding store) and obviously there were no freestanders available up North. I said to my husband, "If we're going to relocate, sun, sand, and the beach sounds good to me." This one here became available and we moved down here in 1998. We didn't know a soul. We packed up four kids, ages 9, 10, 11 and 12, and said, "All right, we're here to stay." I didn't look back. It was the best move we ever made.
Now your Chick-fil-A has had the highest sales volume in the state of Florida for the past nine years. What's the secret?
I think it's a combination. It's a great location. It's hiring the right people, making the food right and being out there and marketing, and letting people know what we have. I'm a big believer in giving back to your community.
So now you've been a mayor for about a month. How has it gone so far?
Well, leading up to it was crazy. It was a lot of events. We even had two events in one day. I don't recommend that for anybody (laughs). I had a lot of good help and I did not do it myself. It was "we." I started the ball turning, but really, when we went to the community and asked, "Do you have something?" They said, "For Tammy, sure."
Have a lot of people asked you about widening roads or property taxes?
Oh yeah. During the (Fourth of July) parade, people were like, "What are you going to do about potholes? What are you going to do about traffic? What are you doing about this economy?" A lot of people, we realize, actually think it's a real election. We want to educate people about what the mayor's race is all about. We're going to have an honorary mayors' reception. I'm going to try and [invite] as many past honorary mayors as possible and we're going to meet at Center Place on Sept. 19.
So what are you going to do about property taxes?
The same thing you're going to do (laughs).
DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest
While Tammy is the face of the local Chick-fil-A, Paul is the behind-the-scenes guy, constantly asking employees to help come up with better ways to serve. The two also work to cater various events. Tammy says their success is definitely a matter of Christian faith, and notes that they prayed before moving to Brandon from Racine, Wis.
Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 226-3406.