Walking into Di’Amore Fine Jewelers in Waco, one is taken aback by the sense of calm, the glittering jewels and lights, and all-around warm welcome.
That same calm, glitter, and warmth are present behind the scenes, as well. In proprietor Jay Pandya, who, when asked what his title was, responded with a gleam in his eye and a playful smile, “I’m the janitor, I’m the plumber…”
This man? This is a story you don’t want to miss.
“When I first came to America in 1979, I was a janitor during the evenings in Chicago. I was an accountant in the daytime. I was the best accountant; I was the best janitor. So, when I cleaned, they were like the restrooms at the Hyatt Regency, not a factory bathroom. So, enjoy everything you do, because when you enjoy everything you do, you're going to do a good job.”
After quoting his father, he reveals the foundation upon which his family grew their start, “I got an extra job because I bought a car and I wanted to pay for the car, insurance. I didn't have a social life, was more of a workaholic. I worked for the Girl Scouts as an accountant. They got audited and the company that audited us? They gave me a weekend job auditing, so I was working as an account with the Girl Scouts from eight to four, Monday through Friday, a janitor six to ten at night, and Saturdays and Sundays did the auditing job. That's how we saved the money to invest in the hotels.”
The jeweler goes on to say he and his brother were business partners, originally. Now, their two boys are also working together, still with the hotels. Cute, huh?
But in 1985, business was way slower than it was cute. The Pandya’s decided, “We need to branch out, do something else,” Jay explains, “We were in Gainesville, Texas. Small town up north. My cousin worked in Dallas for a wholesale jeweler. She said, ‘The next time you're in Dallas, come by my work.’
I went by. Her boss and I spoke for two hours. It turns out, his wife grew up in Indore, India, the same town as my wife - think! Billions of people in India and here we are… My sister’s boss offered, ‘Jay, I have a proposition for you. If you want, I'll put you in the jewelry business.’”
Jay laughed, “And me, never put a foot in a jewelry store in my life...but – I'm a businessman, so I said, ‘Go ahead. I'm listening.’”
That man owned a shopping center in Gainesville, where Jay lived. He extended the man an offer: you take one of the shops in the center to open a jewelry store. I don’t pay you a management fee; you don’t pay me rent.
Jay responded, “That's fine, but, I don't know anything about the business. What do I have to do?"
The man instructed, “You buy showcases, a safe, and an alarm system. I'm going to give you the merchandise. You don't pay me a penny. Try it for three months, six months, see if you like the business.”
So Jay found a $500 safe. The Zales Corporation was getting rid of their showcases for $1200, and he had an alarm system installed.
Within a month or so, he was in business.
“A customer walked in and asked if I had a rope chain. Honest to God, I didn't know what a rope chain was. ‘Thank you Mr. Customer! You taught me something!’ Same thing with a ruby is red, emerald is green.”
That was working just fine until a customer needed a ring sized; the new jeweler didn't have anywhere to size it. The solution: Jay’s mentor, an hour away in Dallas, offered one of his work-from-home jewelers to do the repairs. Both guys’ shops closed at five. Jay would drive the repairs down, wait for the crafter to finish, and drive back to Gainesville. He felt responsible to serve his customers.
“Christmas came around and I was telling my mentor, ‘I don't mind doing this but it is too much time wasted. What is another option?”
The mentor replied, “If you're really up for it, there is a jewelry school in Paris, Texas.”
Young Jay learned that Paris Junior College had a whole division of jewelry technology and of watch technology. The curriculum was four semesters of jewelry, four semesters of watch-making, and one semester of gemology.
In January of 1988, Jay enrolled; he graduated in 1989 after going through the jewelry and gemology instruction.
“Up to that, I hadn't seen any jewelry tools, everything was brand new to me: the bench, little bitty files, little bitty torch. For half of a semester, I couldn't even solder two pieces together. My professor told me at the end they thought I wasn’t going to make it. But something clicked and from that point on, I ended up being the best student in the history of the school. They gave me an award, the Swest Award for Excellence. Swest gave a thousand dollars for tools to the best student.
In 1995, they inducted me into Hall of Honor. No jewelry student had been and no student since has been inducted. The workmanship was there but because of the ethical standard I held – to be inducted into the Hall of Honor, they looked at so many other things like what you did with your life after the education. They came and saw me at my store, saw me with the customers and things like that.
That year, they took me back to the classroom. They pointed, ‘Do you remember this? Do you remember this?’ I said, ‘Yes! Those are mine!’”
His look intensifies with, still, an awe and surprise, “All those years, those pieces were the benchmarks for the student to see – this is what the finished piece should look like.”
Jay now sits on the advisory board for the program.
Gainesville became too small a town for Jay to cater to, so he opened a kiosk in Sherman. In the mall. For seven months, all they did were repairs. He and his wife left home at nine in the morning, came in at ten at night.
Jay described, “We knew there had to be a better way to grow. We were looking for a place that would let us sell as well as repair. Dallas, Houston, all the big cities I went to said we could do repairs, but they had enough jewelry stores.
A friend encouraged me to look at Waco. I didn't know what "Waco" was! They allowed me to sell at Richland Fashion Mall in 1991 as Jewelry Repair and Design. And in 1993, we opened up Jay Jewelers, just one location before we moved to our own building.
I'm not a young chicken anymore and was so tired of mall hours. In 2012, my banker called me. This location used to be a Talbots. He said, 'The price is right, location is good, go sign on the dotted line, I'll take care of everything else.' So we took care of that. It took me a while to redo the store the way I wanted it but in September of 2014, we moved here."
Jay's team seems more like family, "We have an awesome staff. I had a girl named Pam. Pam Powell. She was black, husband was white. They got married in '70s so they had to go through so much. The interracial marriage - they were not accepted. And that woman, was – angel."
A soft silence comes over the room as he pauses, "I get emotional even talking about her. She was more like my older sister. At three months of working with me she said 'Jay, I'm going to work with you for the rest of my life.'
I said, 'Pam. Don't be silly; nobody ever does that.'
But she was true to her word. She died out of cancer." He whispered, "2006."
Adamant remembrances flowed out of Jay, "She was awesome. She taught me how to live, how to die. No regrets. She was so sick. So Abby, my manager, and I would go to her house, spend time with her. Even when she couldn't even move around, she was laughing. No regrets whatsoever. Died peacefully. Even after all of those trials and tribulations of cancer and treatment."
He went on to speak of how he hired Abby. She was 19. He noticed her exceptional personality as they both were at a wedding.
He looked at Abby and said, "The business isn't ready for you yet, but when it is; I'll call you."
The time came soon after and Abby's 35 years old now and still working with Jay!
His "adopted son," Rehan, runs the store in the mall, Jewelry Repair and Design, opened in 1991. Jay's daughter, Monali, is the president of the company and son, Alok, lives in Dallas running several other businesses. The way he speaks of each of his employees shows care: Ben, Rachel, Barbara, all of them.
His business philosophy? "Every time I get somebody on board I tell them, 'We are not here to sell anything. I do not want you to think about selling. Selling is where the business happens, but that's not your focus. Your focus is taking care of the person walking into this store. They got off the couch, drove to our door, for a reason. Find out the reason, and solve. That is our job. We are their servants. You are not a salesperson; I am not a business owner. We are all servants, to everyone who comes to the door.' That way you never have ego, 'I'm somebody.' - I'm nobody. I'm here to cater to you. That culture, that's evolved. That's what the whole culture is about. You never think about making a sale. Read our reviews, they say, 'They never put any pressure on you.' It's peaceful. When you walk into the store, it calms you."
Jay holds a unique perspective, one he lives by, "I need to run the business to the best of my ability, but it's not mine. Why? So when something goes wrong, it's not mine anyway. So, when the Rolex got stolen, the ring got stolen, Barbara came to me. She's been with me for three years or so; she's like my mom, 'Oh, Jay, I'm so sorry. I need to be more careful. Just take it out of my paycheck a little at a time.'
I said, 'Barbara. How many times have I told you? Nobody has stolen anything from me. I was holding on to it and then I could sell it. It's not mine anyway. So, just got home and be tranquil.'
This is a part of meditation that I really like, you watch things happening. Who did it, why it happened, none of it matters. Just how you react to it. Let's see how we can solve this problem. We are social animals, sure, let's try to make sure it doesn't happen again, but if it does, still the same thing - don't worry about it."
When I asked about sales and jewelry, what's fun to sell, he quickly replied, "The team enjoys catering to the young couples because they're in loooove and looking for the perfect riiiing. This is a happy occasion store; people buy for anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
There was a time a young couple came in and they were arguing back and forth about something. I said, 'You know you guys need to go home right now because I don't sell pendants, earrings, rings - I sell symbols of love. And I don't see any right now between you two so you go home, find your love, then come back.'
The boy knew me because his parents did business with me. He said, 'I'm sorry, Jay! I'm sorry, Jay!'
I told them, 'I'm going to test you guys out once in a while; if I find out you're not in love, I'll buy back your ring!'"
We asked Jay to name the wildest thing he'd ever been asked to do in the business.
"I wouldn't say wildest, but very challenging. A girl came in, 'Jay, I have my father's ashes and I want to have it in a ring. They sell necklaces you can put them in, but I want it in a ring because I had my father wrapped about my finger so I want to have the ring, ashes, wrapped around my finger. What can we do?'
She's from Houston. She went to so many jewelers. She would come in, every time! and play with the ideas. Ten or twelve times she came in with ideas. I'd say, 'No, that's not doable. No, that's not doable.'
Finally, 'Jay, I like this ring. What can we do?'
The stone she chose was much higher than everything else, so there was a space beneath where I could put a tiny tube. We capped it on one side and then had her come in and, by her own hand, put the ashes in there, and we capped it on the other side.
She didn't know what we were going to do. We found that, in the end, you see the little gold underneath; it didn't look that good. So, I put a diamond on both sides. That was my gift to her. When she came to pick it up, she was extremely thrilled and I said that's all I want!
That was pretty challenging because how do you incorporate ashes..."
Behind the sparkle of Di'Amore Fine Jewelers beats a unified heart. This stellar team does watch repair, jewelry repair, appraisals, along with outfitting your bling to the nth degree.
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