Living in a "less than ideal" situation in Atlanta at the age of sixteen, Dominique Carter started a job at a local Chick-fil-A. His shift manager often offered him truck rides to and from work, and the two developed a friendship on those trips, discussing life and engaging in conversations about professionalism and excellence.
One day the manager took him aside to share how to compartmentalize what he was experiencing outside the restaurant, in order to be present in the moment. Dominique remembers it as a turning point in his perspective, where he began to establish a "pillar of expectations" in his life, both for what he demands of a restaurant shift and what he expects of himself.
Raised by his adoptive mom, who nurtured 53 children via foster care and adoption, Dominique grew up in the Brownsville community of Brooklyn, shaped by its unique challenges and melting-pot-diversity. As a child, he wanted to grow up to be a lawyer with a red sports car and a fast motorcycle, but he most desired to help people. One of his earliest childhood memories, during a time when a little money was needed to go a long way, Dominique spent his Christmas cash on a bag of clementine oranges that he handed out to workers at his local grocery store.
"I really value philanthropy. To give back is intrinsically to be human," he says.
His dedication to helping others grew during his time in Atlanta. Besides working for Chick-fil-A, he served as an advocate for youth in foster care, and at the age of 16, was invited to the governor's mansion because of his active support for extending healthcare for foster children until they reached the age of 21. "I was an advocate before I could even tie a tie," he laughs.
Dominique's sacrifice and commitment continued to shine as he eventually served the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative (JCYOI) Foster Children's Foundation, becoming both a board member and a traveling speaker for them. During that time he wrote a personal check to donate to their organization, but a fellow board member tried to refuse it, knowing Dominique traveled around on a moped, rather than his dreamed about motorcycle. (He does share that the moped was highway legal...and he had the governor removed so that he could regularly speed past surprised motorists.)
He went on to be the first of his mom's extensive family to earn his degree, in International Business, even though he never expected to go to college. And after his journey wandered through Philly and Atlanta, he arrived again to New York.
Being back in the city was a homecoming for him in multiple ways. Exhausted from what he experienced in many restaurant situations, "people more concerned with cup inventory than employee well-being," he wanted to work in the Chick-fil-A culture of hospitality again. As he began the application process to some of the midtown restaurants, he needed a reference from his former shift manager...
But his old boss and mentor refused to give him a reference. "If you're going to work at a NYC Chick-fil-A, you're going to work for me," said the manager with a smile, who happened to be Luke Cook, the operator of the Chick-fil-A at 144 Fulton St. Their Chick-fil-A journeys started together in Atlanta and now joyously reunited in Dominique's hometown. They both appreciate how far they've come from the fledgling shift manager and the wide-eyed teenager who chatted about expectations in truck rides home from work.
"It's no coincidence that we all arrived back here in NYC together: me, Luke, and Chick-fil-A."
Eleven years later, and thirteen hours away from Atlanta, as we sit on the rooftop terrace of our restaurant, we laugh that he never landed that red sports car, but he does wear a sporty red shirt everyday. And as he works again at a Chick-fil-A, he's still applying those same lessons of expectations and attention to detail he learned from Luke back in Georgia.
When asked about his current expectations, he smiles and ponders the question with his trademark thoughtfulness. "It's such a cliche, but I do want to improve every day...in all aspects, overall well-being: physical, mental, financial responsibility." He's specifically been working on reading more, especially leadership books, and his ultimate dreams include creating a global plan to help at-risk youth and communities. But he is cautious of "feel good projects," keeping an experienced eye on "creating sustainable systems that help people" in the long term.
He does point out that his transition into adulthood has reinforced what it takes to maintain his passion for serving others.
"I've been alive for 27 years, but I finally feel like I’ve just started living." He pauses again. "You can’t thrive when you’re in survival mode. You can’t help others when you’re just trying to float. I see how easy it is to become complacent." He knows that with no parents or teachers around, the absence of outside authority figures makes it easy to coast. "How bad do you want it? If excellence is the expectation, you gotta work at that, it requires effort."
To maintain all his commitments, Dominique stays deeply rooted in his faith, and enjoys fashion and writing poetry, with a goal to have a spoken word finished by the end of the year.
What does he think others should know about Chick-fil-A?
"Refills are free, even in NY," he laughs. "It's one of the few places that really walk the talk. From an employment perspective, you really get what they promise. And they really do want to put the guest first. People should know, Chick-fil-A isn’t so insulated that it can’t see other people’s viewpoints and perspectives, other people’s lifestyles, it’s a misconception that we only have one kind of employee or one kind of guest."