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VIProfile: Spence Sheldon


At the young age of 26, Spence Sheldon has already gained a lifetime of experience. Right out of college, with a Business Entrepreneurship degree from WKU, he was determined to “just go to work.” Wanting to be involved in music, he moved to Nashville and waited tables for a year and became interested in the restaurant industry. He had been talking with his Dad, Steve Sheldon, about franchising and they investigated several opportunities. One day, he happened to drive by the grand opening for the Donatos Pizza in Midtown in Nashville and there was a line out the door. “I’m not a foodie, I’m not a pizza connoisseur, but I knew there had to be something special to this business,” said Spence. After calling his Dad about the opportunity, Spence spent several months contacting Donatos about franchising. He recalls how serious they took him, as just a 24 year-old, likely from having a 19-year-old founder to the company. Ultimately this first impression left a lasting one, and Spence landed as the pizza guy.

Donatos pizza opened in Bowling Green in April of 2017, by the Sheldon Restaurant Group. “I was just a kid who thought I had it all together, and I learned really quickly I did not,” said Spence who has been the operator from inception. “My Dad and my family were willing to invest in me and for that I’ll forever be grateful.” The Sheldon family stays extremely supportive and involved with Spence’s Mom and Dad doing their part to promote the business being active with community giving, and Mamaw and Papaw bussing tables and greeting guests many nights.

From the beginning Spence knew it had to be his to learn from and he let them all know they had to let him fail and learn on his own….and boy did he. He spent most of his first year working 10 –15 hour days but he enjoyed it and took pride in it. “Even the days it was just me and a mop bucket at the end, crying my eyes out, I’d go home and feel like I had a day of hard work that was worth living, and felt proud knowing I couldn’t give anymore of me. That allows me to lay my head down at night,” said Spence.

The first year he took off only five days – but learned quickly he was running himself into the ground. Year two, when he finally did take some time off, a big lesson came upon his return with the realization he hadn’t instilled his values into the staff and management for it to be felt while he was away. He had micromanaged too much and needed to start fresh. “It’s been such a learning experience, such a humbling experience for me. I get out here and serve people
all day long because I genuinely care about people, but I needed to make sure everyone I was hiring felt the same way,” said Spence. “We breathe to help people and if that doesn’t make sense to you or you’re taken back by that, this might not be the place for you.”

For the last year and a half Spence has driven home the message that this is all bigger than food. It’s about people, their stories and relationships. “For me, I couldn’t wait to love on people and with this business I didn’t have to go find people – they’ve come to us because we have pizza. We love the heck out of every person that walks through those doors. We treat it like grandma’s house and make it a safe place for employees.” With that culture flowing through each of the 50 employees, Sheldon’s Bowling Green Donatos has made it to the top 10% of Donatos franchises and is preparing to open their second location in Bowling Green in early 2020.

Spence’s love for others has been shown through his loving outreach to the homeless through Donatos and several special individuals he’s connected with. Spence is working on a project called Almost Home to expand this homeless outreach. “Homeless people are more human than they ever are homeless, and I’ve built some great relationships, great friendships, with many of them. I can’t always stop business to take care of people, but I can allow them into my life and get to know them. That’s what its all about. We’re all in this together. We all struggle with the same things.”

For Spence, he has found his passion... and it’s not just good pizza. “I breathe to serve people. I was created to help people. The restaurant industry is a great avenue for that.” He wants nothing more than to one day own his own restaurant concept, but closer to 40, he jokes. For now, he has many years to continue loving people in different ways and growing each day as an entrepreneur, writer, son, friend, philanthropist and pizza guy.

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