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Made to order
Losing his 34-year job as a bank property manager is Jim Ridgeway’s ticket to becoming a restaurateur

By Jay Wilson
DAILY Staff Writer · 340-2449

Jim Ridgeway had worked for one company for 34 years. So when his boss gave him five minutes to turn in his keys, surrender the company charge card and vacate the premises, it felt like a slap in the face.

Jim Ridgeway co-owns Bank Street Deli with Keith Spivey. It opened next to Wyker’s Toys in May.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
Jim Ridgeway co-owns Bank Street Deli with Keith Spivey. It opened next to Wyker’s Toys in May.
"The company has gone through a big downsizing," he remembers his boss saying. "It's nothing personal, it's just business."

"For me it was very personal," Ridgeway said. "I sat out in my truck for a minute, thinking, 'Thirty-four years . . . how am I going to feel tomorrow when I don't have a job?' " he remembers after losing his job as East Region Property Manager with Jones Lang LaSalle. That company managed Compass Bank facilities in Alabama and Florida.

The next day, he was tearing Sheetrock off the walls of a vacant Bank Street Northwest storefront. It was the future home of Bank Street Deli, a sandwich shop he and partner Keith Spivey had planned months earlier.

"The original plan was to hire a manager to run the deli," Ridgeway said.

Always positive and energetic, the 56-year-old said he does not dwell on things he can't control. After thinking it through, he realized it was time for a change.

"I thought, 'Hot damn! I don't have to get up in the morning and come to this office,' " he said about his former job.

He decided to accelerate his business plan. Ridgeway and Spivey opened Bank Street Deli next to Wyker's Toys in May, with Ridgeway managing daily operations.

Jim Ridgeway is a hands-on deli owner, assembling sandwiches like ham and cheddar and secret-recipe chicken salad at Bank Street Deli.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
Jim Ridgeway is a hands-on deli owner, assembling sandwiches like ham and cheddar and secret-recipe chicken salad at Bank Street Deli.
"Business is wonderful," he said, sitting at one of the deli tables on a recent Saturday morning. "I look out there and every table is full."

The husband, father of three and grandfather said he is thankful that his daughters are self-sufficient.

Blessed reassurance

Providing for his family has always been his No. 1 priority, said his wife, Doris.

The two met in 1971 when she was a teller and he was in management training at State National Bank, a forerunner to Compass. They married in 1972.

"He made me laugh," she said, recalling her initial attraction.

She said Ridgeway came home the day he lost his job, told her what had happened then reassured her. He did not talk about the deli at the time, but she knew he'd always wanted to own a restaurant.

"He said he did not intend for things to change for me at all," she said. "I needed to hear him say that things were going to be OK, and he said it."

Doris decided to help with the deli and said she enjoys the work. Her husband said he sees her now more than ever, although he works more hours.

According to family and friends, Ridgeway is competitive. "He's anal," Spivey said with a laugh. "Everyone who knows him will know exactly what I mean."

He said he and Ridgeway compete with each other, but it's all in good fun. Ridgeway's attention to detail is good for the business since restaurants must be consistent with their food.

"I tell him all the time, 'It's all about you, Jim,' " Spivey said.

But Ridgeway takes the sting out of any jabs by admitting his own faults and accurately reporting his strengths. He knows himself well. His fierce competitive nature came from his days at Huntsville's Lee High School. He was a star football player, named "Best Blocking Back in the Tennessee Valley Conference" in 1967.

Samford University gave him a full scholarship, beefed him up from 185 to 220 pounds and put him on defense playing weak-side tackle. He said football taught him to be at his most creative in high-pressure situations. He told a story about a flash flood in downtown Birmingham to illustrate this point.

In less time than a rerun of "Friends," a storm dumped about half a foot of rain. Water rumbled beneath the streets, shooting manhole covers into the air.

It raged into the basement of Compass Bank's operations center, one of about 160 properties formerly under Ridgeway's care. The facility's basement housed vital electronics, including the bank's wire transfer system. Water now swirled around these electrical components.

Without this system, Compass was literally dead in the water. The price tag for a shut down? About $1 million a day.

"They said we couldn't do it," Ridgeway said. "The wire transfer system ... had to be up and running, and they said we couldn't do it."

It was exactly what he needed to hear. He and his team worked all day and through the night. They had the system up and running the next day.

In his few moments of spare time, Ridgeway is active in local theater, both on stage and behind the scenes. His efforts earned his Decatur Arts Council Bravo! Award nomination.

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