When his business partner died, Daniel Halpern was expected to close shop but he’s now seeing $170 million in revenue

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 22, 2024 9:13 AM EDT
Daniel Halpern. Photo credit: Franchise Times

People expected Jackmont Hospitality to fold when Maynard Jackson passed away in 2003. Elected mayor of Atlanta at just 35, Jackson was the first Black mayor in any major city in the South. He was the rainmaker and charismatic politico at the forefront of the hospitality business. Without him, the enterprise couldn’t exist.

What people didn’t expect was that Daniel Halpern would step up. He felt a responsibility to keep the business going not only for the people working there but to also continue Jackson’s legacy. Halpern ignored the naysayers who thought he couldn’t possibly run Jackmont and carried on with fight and grit. Today, the restaurant management company has grown to over 37 different TGI Friday’s restaurants and other independent concept restaurants. It generated over $170 million in revenue in 2019.

“It made us grow up. It was the worst day because we had to grow up. It was the best day because we grew up,” Halpern said of the day his mentor and business partner died from a heart attack.

Jackmont Hospitality was started in 1994 by Daniel Halpern, Brooke Jackson Edmond, his friend from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and her father, Maynard Jackson. However, its foundation was established in the 1930s with a small family resort by Dr. Irene Dobbs and her husband Reverend Maynard Jackson Sr. It was located in the North Georgia Mountains and was used to host family and associates. Jackson’s mountain resort, nicknamed “Jackmont” came to be renowned as a refuge for warm and attentive hospitality.

Halpern and his business partners had a different kind of hospitality in mind. They recognized an opportunity in the airport restaurant space and the TGI Fridays and saw it as the way to go. Although airport locations are harder to operate compared to street locations, Halpern and the team saw profitability there. Jackmont Hospitality revenues grew from $100,000 in 1995 to around $27.5 million in 2004. But when Jackson passed away,  annual revenue dropped to just $9 million.

Halpern had an uphill task ahead of him –  to build a company that was financially secure, stable, and delivered a quality product daily as was originally envisioned.

He immediately set to expand the business. In 2004, Jackmont Hospitality added four T.G.I. Friday’s urban-based restaurants to its first one at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Halpern doubled the company’s Fridays portfolio with the purchase of 16 Florida locations and two additional locations in Charlotte, North Carolina. By 2019, the company owned more than 46 restaurants with locations across the country.

Accounting for over $60 million in managed volume, Halpern has made food service Jackmont’s core competency. The company has joint venture food service partnerships with Sodexho USA, a subsidiary of France-based Sodexho Alliance, one of the world’s largest food service companies. It also operates campus food services for Georgia schools Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Albany State University and provides food service for Atlanta Public Schools, Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta; and others.

Halpern is following in the footsteps of Jackson, leading and inspiring employees to fulfill their potential. He is dedicated to people and has created a company culture that develops and empowers its workforce. It is no wonder that Jackmount continues to expand and thrive in the hospitality business.

“He was a guy who was extremely demanding but gave you a lot of space and pretty much expected perfection. He was a guy who would chew you out without using a word of profanity, and you’d walk out motivated to come back and be better,” Halpern echoed the leadership lessons he learned from Jackson.

Jackmont Hospitality bestowed a gift of $250,000 to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in honor of Jackson and is leading an effort among minority business owners to raise $2.5 million for the Center. It reserves a percentage of its profits to support the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation.