Ham & Cheese 

Trey Jordan of Holiday Deli & Ham talks business.

Holiday Deli & Ham Co. began in a stack of papers.

It was the early '90s when Don "Papa" Jordan, who owned a local Wendy's franchise, approached his son Trey about getting into business together. Dad was thinking another franchise, but Trey, who was selling real estate at the time, wanted to do something completely new.

So, they turned to the stack of papers — magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and the like — that the elder Jordan had collected over the years. Trey Jordan estimates the pile was two-feet high, and with a bit of digging, the pair discovered that not only did Honeybaked Ham do brisk business in the region, it had no competition.

The pair toured franchises and mom-and-pops and decided they could do it.

The first Holiday Ham opened in 1993, and now there are has six stores in the Memphis area and in Knoxville.

Trey Jordan says the aim in competing with HoneyBaked was product-based only in part. "The secret sauce for us, so to speak, was customer service, above and beyond. We were okay with selling less product as long as we treated people well," he says.

"Mom said make everyday a holiday," Jordan explains of the business' name and philosophy. "She would use any excuse to have an event — you brought home an 'A' in school, came home from college — and she'd go overboard."

These family get-togethers were often picnics that included chicken and potato salads and, what's become one of Holiday Ham's signature items, pimento cheese.

Eighty-thousand pounds of "Papa's Famous Pimento Cheese" were sold last year, and in Knoxville, Holiday Ham has another moniker: Pimento's Café & Market.

You can get pimento cheese on a sandwich or by the pound, and Holiday Ham recently added pimento cheese grits to its breakfast menu.

The recipe for the pimento cheese is top-secret, of course, and the Jordans have learned there's no point in messing with it. That's to say, the blue-cheese-and-carrot version was a flop.

The blue-cheese pimento salad was an example of the Jordans actively tweaking their business model. A year ago, they added a breakfast menu. "None of us believed in breakfast," Jordan says. "There was a real push-back." He estimates that breakfast now constitutes about 10 percent of the business.

As for the ham, which is from a smokehouse in Ohio, Jordan says its sales make up about 20 percent of business. "Our ham is awesome," he says.

One of Holiday's newest offerings is the "pack-your-own" cooler, which serves two to four or four to six. The to-go coolers include a choice of salads (chicken, pimento), half a loaf of bread, a side of fresh fruit, and cookies.

In the fall, the company will introduce pasta salads and recently held "preview tastings" for new shrimp and chicken salads. (Customers volunteer for the "previews" through the company's website.)

Holiday Ham has roughly 180 employees, who are pushed with contests offering prizes such as tickets to Six Flags. When one East Memphis store wasn't having much success with its curb-side service (you call in an order; they deliver it to your car in specially marked parking spaces), the Union Avenue store manager made it her goal to make the service work in Midtown. She met the goal.

"We all pull together," Jordan says. "We're still just a mom-and-pop operation."

Jordan points out the black-and-white pictures on the walls. There's one of his daughters, another featuring his college roommate who's an anchor on ESPN. There's one, of course, taken during one of those family picnics that inspired the business.

"We call ourselves a non-alcoholic Cheers — everybody knows your name," Jordan says, explaining why Holiday Ham has so far resisted franchising. "We're scared we'll lose that culture."

Ultimately, Jordan says, the goal is to spread the Holiday Ham brand across the state. "We want to become a household name in Tennessee."

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