Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of Jimmy John's, visited Columbus on Saturday to present delivery driver Zach Hillmer with a brand new car.
The visit came about after The Columbus Telegram published a story on Tuesday about Hillmer giving Columbus resident and veteran Greg Holeman a ride to the hospital after his sister Lisa Nagengast called the restaurant by mistake. The story subsequently went viral, and was later reported on by various state and national news outlets.
On Friday, Liautaud called the store and spoke with Hillmer over the phone. During their conversation, Liautaud learned the car Hillmer owned and drove for his deliveries was a 1991 Chevy Cavalier with a broken radio and heater.
It was then Liautaud said he told Hillmer that he was going to give him a brand new Ford Escape in person as a thank you.
“This is what it's all about. This is what built America,” Liautaud said of Hillmer’s story. “It’s about helping each other out, helping each other win. We’re all one team, right? It’s beautiful, just beautiful. It just warms my heart.”
Liautaud flew in to Columbus Municipal Airport all the way from Champaign, Illinois, to present Hillmer with the car in front of a crowd made up of his fellow store employees.
“I was very surprised when he called. I’ve only ever seen pictures of him, interviews on TV, things like that," Hillmer said about Liautaud. "So it was really cool to be able to meet him, never thought that would happen."
The delivery driver said he greatly appreciated Liautaud’s gift.
“I don't even have the words to say really, it was an amazing thing when Jimmy called me and told me what he was going to do,” Hillmer said. “It’s pretty emotional for me.”
An operating partner of Columbus' Jimmy John’s, Sam Nixon, said the store had been getting calls all week from veterans across the country giving their praise to the store and Hillmer.
“I see the different area codes, and immediately the goosebumps start raising on the back of my neck. And to hear what they have to say is amazing,” Sam Nixon said.
Jan Nixon, another of the Columbus franchisee owners, said Liautaud’s visit to the store was the biggest event to ever happen to them since they opened their doors in Columbus in 2009. She said she was glad Zach got a new car.
“I was crying because I’m just so happy for Zach. That car is beautiful and he deserves it so much,” Jan Nixon said.
After the meeting, Liautaud headed back to the airport. And as for Hillmer, he said he'll "keep on driving for Jimmy John’s and see what comes next.”
Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.