By Marilyn Tinnin
A Tradition of Faith, Family, and Hard Work
In the late 1920s, when Angelo “Pop” Primos, a Greek immigrant decided to set up a bakery in Jackson, he had a sixth-grade education, a determined work ethic, a reverence for God and family, and some amazing recipes. As his young family grew, so did the need to put shoes on their feet and clothes on their backs!
The entrepreneurial Pop borrowed a little money from a friend, expanded the kitchen in his bakery and began to offer hamburgers and fried chicken alongside his pastries and cookies. It wasn’t long before the name Primos was synonymous with consistently good food and a family feel.
As Pop’s four sons came of age, either graduated from college or came home from WWII, he helped set them up in their own restaurants so that each could take care of their families. Each restaurant, independently owned by a brother, shared the family name and the same reputation for quality eating.
Don Primos, one of Pop’s 16 grandchildren is today’s owner and CEO of the present group of three restaurants, the legacy that has survived every kind of upswing, downswing, economic crisis, war, recession, and boom for 88 years! He won’t like the term CEO. Don Primos can wash dishes, sweep floors, and whip up homemade pimento cheese with the best of them. He has learned the restaurant trade from the ground up, and after 41 years, still works harder than anyone there.
He went to work in the family business in 1977. Fresh out of Mississippi State with a new wife and a degree in General Business, he says he was very naïve. He quickly discovered that a college degree may have taught him a lot of important things, but there were things that came up in the course of a day in operating a business and dealing with other people that no book ever covered. Don was quick to figure that out, and he was a quick study when it came to appreciating those who worked behind the scenes in the kitchen or on the service staff. One of the best things about Don is he knows how to say thank you to those who contribute to the success of Primos.
His ability to create a culture where employees know they are valued has also created a culture of loyalty and respect for the customer. That kind of “we’re all in this together” sense of family begins with Don’s leadership. He takes his faith seriously and considers it a priority to represent Christ well whether at work or at home.
The original restaurants, including the 43,000 square feet Northgate complex that did a diverse and broad business for 37 years, are all gone now. Don operates cafes in Flowood, Ridgeland, and Madison, with a clear kinship to the superb taste, service, and casual atmosphere that generations equate with the Primos brand.
Don has been the face of the business for decades now, but he will tell you in a New York minute that he doesn’t think he could have been successful without the love and support of his wife Virginia. Anytime there was a big decision to make, he could count on her to pray with him about it and to be willing to do whatever he asked of her in the process.
They met as first graders, became sweethearts while at Jackson Prep and dated through college. Don knew from his dad’s frequent absences during his own childhood that the restaurant business was incredibly demanding and plain hard on family life. Going to work early and coming home after bedtime were just part of it, but such a lifestyle meant sacrifice on both their parts. When their daughters were very small, Don was usually heading out the door for evening rush about the time the 5 o’clock pandemonium erupted on the home front.
However, Virginia was a trooper when it came to supporting her man—she thought he was, without a doubt, worth it! In the early 1980s when Don wanted to start making cakes to sell in their baked goods cases, it was Virginia, along with his mother Mary Ann, who dutifully made them one by one, day in and day out. Virginia set her alarm many times for 2 a.m. to ensure that no crying baby would interrupt the task!
Today, Don oversees 150 employees who staff the three locations. Pop would be so proud of his grandson. He has been a good steward of the family name and the tradition of family, faith, and hard work.
Primos is open from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday offering a traditional breakfast menu, the best blue plate lunches around, and a selection of entrees that will please the palate of every member of your family.