This Memorial Day, DoorDash celebrates and honors veterans for their service. Today, we’re featuring three veteran-owned businesses and their stories of service, becoming business owners, and showing up for their communities.
August Davis, On French
The CEO and co-owner of On French, August Davis’s journey to becoming a restaurateur starts in Florida, where the New Orleans native and Navy veteran moved after 14 years in New Jersey. August and his wife Jennie launched On French in 2015, selling New Orleans-style praline candy and jambalaya at farmers’ markets in Orlando, in addition to a catering operation. After a few years of running On French, August wanted to grow the business and paused operations to explore his options.
Having a brick and mortar required a large upfront investment, though, and August wanted to embrace a more modern way of operating. “Being in the military teaches you how to adapt and be flexible,” he says. “I started to look at the digital space as an opportunity where you’re able to establish a business in the food industry without having $250,000 in capital.”
August decided to use a ghost kitchen for the next iteration of On French. With the support of Jennie, he left his job in the middle of 2020 to focus their efforts on the restaurant. “I was a guy who quit his job and drained every dollar I had into this ghost kitchen concept,” he says. “People looked at me like I was nuts. I was leaving a job that was providing for my family during the hardest of times.”
A few months after launching in December 2020, On French brought in over $90,000 in sales. Soon after, they expanded On French’s reach to St. Petersberg, Florida (with plans to relocate operations to Tampa), giving more customers access to experience the restaurant’s authentic New Orleans cuisine, which had expanded to serve etouffee, jambalaya, and more.
The power of teamwork
For August, one of the most important lessons from his service is strength in numbers. “I learned how important teamwork and commitment are,” he says. “You’re only going to be as strong as the person next to you.” The Navy also provided a source of constancy, something he cherishes to this day. “They’ve always been there,” he says. “I took a lot of lessons from my time and to this day, they’re still working their magic. It’s like a pair of invisible arms around me every time I’m in a trying situation.”
My first experience of leaving New Orleans was going into the Navy, and it was game-changing for me. They gave me structure and never gave up on me; they knew I was a work in progress.
August remembers the transition to civilian life as a bumpy one, especially as a New Orleans native moving to the faster pace of East Coast life. “I won’t sugar coat it; it was a rough transition,” he says. “I was part of this strong organization that had all the answers for me, and it felt like everything was moving really fast coming back to civilian life. But, I’m grateful for the ride and my time in New Jersey. I was able to be embraced by another culture and don’t regret anything.”
As a Navy veteran, August became heavily involved with programs such as Veterans Florida, Bunker Labs, InLab, and Action Zone to fine-tune his entrepreneurial skills and knowledge before relaunching On French. “These organizations helped us with the transition to making On French digital, and to understand the economics of running a small business better,” he says. “We have mentors, and the way we operate our day-to-day now is more strategic than before.”
He credits his success to his involvement in veteran organizations—and encourages other veterans to seek out community, too. “Make it easier on yourself and get with a program to transition yourself out,” he says. “It can be for anything: entrepreneurship, seeking a different career path, or mental support.”
In addition to seeking support, August encourages future veteran restaurateurs to embrace the power of digital media. “These platforms are going to be here forever,” he says. “They’re going to help us stretch into places that we’ve never seen and bring our food to people who wouldn’t be able to experience it otherwise.”
Charlie Watkins, Water’s Edge
Charlie’s venture into the restaurant business was for his daughter, who found it difficult to get a job after graduating with an accounting degree. “No one wanted to give her an opportunity because she had no experience,” he says. “ I said ‘You know what? I’m just going to open up a company.’ I wanted her to run it and learn from there.” That company was Water’s Edge Winery and Bistro, an elegant winery, restaurant, and event venue in Elizabethtown, Kentucky — and the first and only Black-owned winery in the state.
After learning about the Water’s Edge franchise from a friend and realtor, Charlie became excited about the prospect of opening up a winery that put the customer experience first. “I loved this concept where you were able to taste a wine before you even buy a bottle.”
Adapting to life’s challenges
After 22 years and three deployments in Iraq, Charlie still holds on to the values that the Army taught him. “The Army taught me about integrity, honesty, leadership, and learning how to handle adversity.” Charlie knows the importance of being able to handle whatever comes his way, especially as a restaurant owner: Water’s Edge went into construction during the height of the pandemic and opened in September 2020.
The military is always changing, and I want to teach my young leaders at the winery how to be flexible when problems arise. I try to teach them to be adaptable.
The creation of Water’s Edge was a reminder of some of the lessons he learned in service. “You always have to have a contingency plan. “Once you get a mission, you rehearse until that mission is drilled in your head that you can do it,” he says. “You have to plan, execute and see how things work consistently.”
Jonathan Kerkian, Corkscrew Johnny’s
While Corkscrew Johnny’s has been a family business since 2001, Jonathan Kerkian was keen on exploring his career options as a young college graduate. “I decided the Army would be good because there’s a lot of different jobs, from journalism to technology,” he says. “I wanted to push myself physically and mentally, and I thought the Army would be a good starting point in my life.”
Jonathan enlisted in the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan as an officer. After five years in service, family circumstances led him to come back home to Ohio to oversee his father’s business after an illness. “Once I got home from deployment, things came to a head where I knew I needed to step into the business for my family,” he says.
When he came back to Ohio in 2013, shifting from the formal structures of the Army to civilian life (and stepping into a longstanding business) was a learning curve for the new owner.
“The hierarchy is way more defined in the Army; you’re taught how to treat your superior,” he says. “In the civilian world, there’s not that formalness to being a boss. I learned very quickly how to work with different personalities and relate to people on a different level.”
He used the first year to learn the business, absorbing as much as possible before officially taking the reins. Now, Jonathan oversees Corkscrew Johnny’s with a focus on e-commerce, building its robust pickup and delivery business.
Finding common ground
When it came to operating Corkscrew Johnny’s, Jonathan’s training in the Army helped tremendously. For him, running Corkscrew Johnny’s has many parallels to how the military functions. “I look at the business as something that has a structure that’s similar to the military. It’s almost like a giant corporation, with different departments and functions,” he says. “They have all kinds of manuals and how-tos and books, and most businesses have documents on how to do things. You’re not reinventing the wheel, just taking a lot of the knowledge of how existing structures are and applying it to your business.”
Along with providing Jonathan with the opportunity to explore different interests, the Army also instilled some core personal values that he still applies today. “Being in the Army taught me accountability, putting in the extra work, and not expecting a pat on the back all the time for it,” he says.
Like Charlie, one of the biggest lessons Jonathan learned as a civilian and business owner is the importance of flexibility. “If you try to be as rigid as the military, you’re not going to have many people working for you,” he says. “People have their own lives and obligations and you have to work with them and look at the big picture.”
I take pride in putting that I’m a veteran-owned business and am happy to see people support; even if it’s a couple of sales a month it’s extra appreciated. When I see a veteran-owned business, I always try to support and pay it forward.
Jonathan enjoys being a veteran-owned business and encourages others to support their local businesses as well. “I take pride in having a veteran-owned business and try to put it out there,” he says. “Even if you don’t think anyone’s paying attention, it doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Honoring veterans who serve and continue to serve
DoorDash thanks our veterans who have served (and continue to serve) our country.
This May, DoorDash’s Veterans Employee Resource Group (ERG), a group dedicated to providing a safe space for members and allies of the military community, launched the “Walk for Warriors” event, donating $1 for every mile of activity logged by teammates for the month. All proceeds will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization near and dear to the military community, as chosen by our Veteran ERG team members.