Iron sharpens iron. This biblical reference is often used to analogize improvement through a refined process and specific interactions. For Clint and DeAnna Lewis, proud owner-operators of five Wingstop and four Fatburger franchises, the people they have surrounded themselves with have been pivotal to their business and marriage success. Through community, the Lewises are refining their relationship and redefining what it means to be a power couple.
Today, they are, without a doubt, highly accomplished. Nearly thirty years ago, before owning top-performing restaurants, Clint and DeAnna were just starting out. They met in their church’s young people’s ministry, a community they helped create, of about 20 young adults who wanted to blend their social and spiritual lives while remaining grounded in their religious beliefs.
Initially, there were no romantic sparks. In fact, Clint would marry another woman, while DeAnna became engaged to her beau. Perhaps it was destiny or divinity that brought them back together, following Clint’s marriage’s dissolution and the ending of DeAnna’s engagement. The once platonic friends seemed to re-enter each other’s lives at the right time.
Still, they did not jump headfirst into a romantic relationship. Instead, the Lewises cultivated a five-year friendship, grounded in authenticity and honest communication, which led to courtship. After dating nearly two more years, they decided to tie the knot, and, this year, they will celebrate 23 years of marriage.
Through community, the Lewises are refining their relationship and redefining what it means to be a power couple.
“We were always friends,” says Clint. “That’s probably the reason why we get along. We’ve also matured through other things, so [friendship] has never been a problem.”
It was the community that also led the Lewises to their business ventures. Initially, customers of one of California’s earliest locations of Wingstop, the couple came to own the franchise on the advice of one of Clint’s college buddies. “We were customers of Wingstop for quite some time, and we fell in love with the product,” he said.
For Clint, a “number’s guy” with more than 25 years of experience in the finance industry, entrepreneurship was a new calling. While neither he nor DeAnna had a background in hospitality or tourism, Clint was comfortable diving in. DeAnna, although a natural “people’s person,” had a more difficult time walking away from her 20-year career as a social worker in Los Angeles County. Admittedly, there was security in getting a regular paycheck and having medical insurance through her employer.
While their leap of faith proved to be advantageous, the Lewises have had their share of bumps, bruises, and life lessons. In 2005, they opened their first Wingstop in Bakersfield, California, to little fanfare. The brand which initially gained notoriety in Texas was relatively unknown, requiring the couple to build it from the ground-up. Two years later, they embarked on their second location – this time in Whittier, California – but it folded after only eleven months.
Then, there was bankruptcy court. “I thought I had broken the law, and they were going to take me to jail. I was shaking and nervous, and asking, ‘Lord, what have I gotten myself into?'” recalls DeAnna. She, too, remembers that no one prepared her for this fate. “[I was] looking around and saying to myself ‘Wow, we’re the only Black folks here.'”
While their white colleagues understood the process, the Lewises were unaware that resetting was okay because, in the Black community, it seemed, there was a sense of pride that made bankruptcy a dirty word.
But, it was those struggles that brought the couple closer together. “[We were] being forced to talk about finances because we [didn’t] have any food,” DeAnna says. She continued, “We remember those days, too, when Clint was going to go get food baskets so we could have food at the house for [our] small children. We were in go mode, and we had to figure it out.”
During those lean times, they acknowledge their parents provided much-needed support. Still, the responsibility was theirs to rely on and communicate with each other, as they reared their then-small children, Clint, Jr., and Cyndi.
“That’s one thing that Clint and I have always done. Our ability to communicate with each other on everything, including talking about our goals, dreams, and aspirations. We’ve agreed that ‘I can’t support you if I don’t know what you’re doing, and I can’t read your mind, so we have to communicate.'”
Their combined desire to effectively communicate led to one of their earliest relationship decisions to take a break every 90 days. They made this promise before ever embarking on business together. Clint admitted that the non-stop nature of his work often sidetracked him. So, they committed early on to continually learn from each other and ensure their dreams and goals were aligned.
Two years later, they embarked on their second location. It folded after only eleven months.
Their earlier weekend getaways were far from glamorous, and the first one that coincided with DeAnna’s first Mother’s Day – almost didn’t happen. Afraid to leave her newborn, DeAnna was hesitant but opted to stick to their commitment because, thankfully, they had the unwavering support of their parents. Quickly, DeAnna and Clint learned that these much-needed excursions were less about where they went or what they did, but more about their time together.
In addition to their weekend getaways, they take a family vacation and a couple’s trip annually. (DeAnna also makes time for a girls’ getaway, but Clint isn’t as pressed about a boys’ trip.)
In coming full-circle of when they first met in the young people’s ministry, the dynamic duo has created a cohort of married couples with whom they connect to help pulse-check their relationship. “Our marriage circle is significant to us,” they both admit. As such, their couples’ trip often provides an opportunity for rest and reflection, and it has been extremely vital to their business success, too.
After 30 years of friendship and marriage, the Lewises have culled life lessons together in a recently published book, Faith, Family, and Franchise: 13 Lessons for Couples to Create a Heart-Centered Business. They describe it as a story of hope and determination – a template for what they’ve experienced and how they have navigated adversity. They’ve also held tightly to their spirituality, which began at Peace Apostolic Church [now] in Carson, California.
At present, in addition to raising DeAnna’s niece, Charli, the Lewises are supporting some 150 families through their business ventures. As a husband and wife entrepreneurial team, they understand that their decisions, both personally and professionally, impact their family and the livelihoods of their employees. As they set a new standard for “happily ever after” in love and business, the Lewises have become the “iron” that sharpens others.