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From DECA advisor to Chick-fil-A Owner-Operator

October 30, 2023

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Las Vegas Owner-Operator found ways to encourage youth in both roles

For Las Vegas-area local Owner-Operator Vince Merrell, the path to Chick-fil-A was a bit surprising, if not unexpected. Merrell was a high school teacher in Utah serving as an advisor for DECA, a nonprofit that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe. He’d been part of DECA since his sophomore year of high school. 

“When I was registering for classes, there was a marketing class I didn’t know if I was allowed to sign up for as a sophomore,” Merrell said. “The decision to sign up in a lot of ways changed my life.” 

He met teacher and DECA advisor Wayne Dittmore, who retired from education in June 2021 after a 30-year career and served as a DECA advisor for 17 years. 

“In some way Wayne ruined me because he was so good. The very basic business concepts I learned in high school and through DECA involvement was the foundation of all my college classes and teaching,” Merrell said. “One thing I always remember Wayne saying, ‘If you work really hard and harder than others, you’ll be more successful.’” 

DECA sets foundation for future 

Merrell certainly worked hard, serving as chapter president his junior and senior years of high school. He also won first place in international DECA competitions as a sophomore and senior.  

“As a high school student, Vince was an outstanding leader who helped to build-up other students' confidence, and assist them with their preparations for DECA competitions,” Dittmore said. “He was a student who stood up for his value system, and he set a great example for his peers and classmates.” 

In college, Merrell spoke with Dittmore about his plans to enter the field of education. Toward the end of his college coursework, Merrell asked Dittmore if he’d serve as his supervising teacher for his required student-teacher component.  

“That was such an exciting time as I saw Vince develop and hone his teaching skill set,” Dittmore said. “Students readily warmed up to him because he had a genuine interest in their mastery of the content and their success in the course.” 



Guest speaker leads to surprising career shift 

Becky Pickle, a now-retired Chick-fil-A Owner-Operator from the Salt Lake City area, came to be a guest speaker for Merrell’s class. Later at a summer teacher conference, another Chick-fil-A Owner-Operator, Andrew Allman, was a guest speaker. For Merrell, the wheels began to spin. He’d helped organize the conference and thought about what it’d be like to be a Chick-fil-A Owner-Operator. 

Merrell contacted Pickle and worked part-time in her restaurant for a year, generally one night a week, while continuing his full-time role as a teacher and advisor. He was selected to be a Chick-fil-A Owner-Operator in January 2016. 

“What’s unique about DECA and Chick-fil-A is you’ve got this advisor and Operator role, roles that can really make an impact in a young person’s life in a dramatic way,” Merrell said. “In the restaurant, you work with these young people to try to develop and learn from them.”  

Since becoming an Owner-Operator Merrell has continued his involvement with DECA, serving on the Nevada DECA Board of Trustees and as Chair of the Board. 

Chick-fil-A, Inc. celebrates second year as national sponsor of DECA 

Chick-fil-A, Inc. is proud to enter its second year as a national sponsor of DECA. This partnership provides opportunities for local Owners-Operators to partner, influence and engage with future leaders in their communities. 

“One of the reasons DECA is an awesome program is because a student has to be in front of a judge for almost every competitive event,” Merrell said. “Students are given a role play situation and have to speak with that judge and communicate. This translates to experiences in the restaurant business, which include listening, analyzing potential solutions, communicating with guests and arriving at a solution.”