What began as an effort to create his own career, Dan Ponder opened his first Hardee’s restaurant in Donalsonville, Georgia, in 1984.
Thirty-five years and 37 establishments later, he and his brother Ernest have sold the Hardee’s portion of Ponder Enterprises, Inc., to Phase Three Star – another large Hardee’s franchisee based in the Tampa area. Dan Ponder cited the perfect market conditions and a desire to at least semi-retire as reasons for the move.
“Our kids weren’t really interested in continuing the business. The next generations found their own paths in life, and we couldn’t be happier for them,” the 65-year-old Ponder said. “We thought this strategically would be a good time for us to sell.”
The Ponders grew up in Cottonwood, and their family owned peanut shelling operations in Cottonwood, Donalsonville, and other places. Dan graduated from Dothan High School and Ernest from Houston Academy.
While Dan was given the opportunity to continue in the family business – an offer he appreciated – he sought a different path in life. In 1983, he founded Ponder Enterprises and constructed his first Hardee’s, which opened in June 1984.
Soon after, Ernest joined him in the business venture, and the Ponders built a second location in Abbeville. Through the years, Ponder Enterprises grew into a major Hardee’s franchisee that has twice earned the Wilbur Hardee’s Founders Award since it started in 2008, according to the Donalsonville News.
At the time of the sale to Phase Three Star, which included three franchises in Dothan, 1,100 employees worked for the Hardee’s side of Ponder Enterprises. All 1,100 employees retained jobs with the new company, Ponder said.
Negotiations for the sale began in April and were set to be made final two days before Hurricane Michael struck the area. While the hurricane temporarily closed 30 of the 38 restaurants – creating 67 days of lost sales – the storm had little impact on the timing of the sale, Ponder said.
The sale of the 1086 Ross Clark Circle, 4624 West Main St., and 2727 South Oates St. locations were made final last week, according to Houston County property records. The Ponders leased the fourth location at 3471 Ross Clark Circle.
Ponder said Phase Three Star operated 45 Hardee’s in central Florida. Their holdings and the Ponders’ holdings bordered each other in the Lake City area of Florida, he added.
While the Ponders will no longer operate the local Hardee’s restaurants, the family will still manage some commercial real estate holdings. Dan Ponder also serves as Donalsonville’s mayor and must help the city navigate through a major cleanup and rebuilding effort following Hurricane Michael.
“We’ve cleaned up one million cubic yards of debris in the county, and we’re not that big of a county,” Ponder said, adding the State of Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have provided tremendous assistance for rural southwestern Georgia communities.
Ponder also owns the News and remains invested in that product.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done at the paper,” he said.
Otherwise, Ponder owns a townhome near Toomer’s Corner in Auburn and hold season tickets for several Auburn sports. He also plans to travel with his wife.
“We’ll see where life takes us,” he said.