Dwayne Heard, Atlanta entrepreneur, dies at 67

Credit: courtesy of the family

Credit: courtesy of the family

Atlanta businessman Dwayne Heard, 67, died August 28.

He came from Chicago to Atlanta as a Morehouse College student and returned home to get his start in fast-food franchising and management. But he came back to his adopted home in Georgia where he met his wife, raised a family and started businesses in food service. He became a well-known supporter of Democratic local, state and national politicians and worked with a nonprofit supporting educational and economic opportunities for young people.

His gregarious nature made him popular in Atlanta.

Heard was a “spontaneous hero,” lifelong friend Calvin Vismale told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Vismale recalled a day when he, Heard and some teenage Chicago friends saw smoke pouring out of a building. Heard ran toward the fire, where children were trapped in a basement. He yelled to passersby to help and pried open a boarded-up building entrance. Then Heard reached in and passed each child safely to waiting hands. When fire trucks started arriving, Heard and his friends quietly disappeared.

“That’s the kind of thing he would do,” Vismale said.

Last Friday at a memorial service for Heard, Ebenezer Baptist Church’s pastor and U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock said Heard “showed up, trying to make the city a better city. Thank you, Dwayne, for giving so much to the city.”

He died from a medical emergency that the family did not specify.

Heard remained a committed Morehouse man through life.

His son Jordan told people his father “bled maroon and white,” Morehouse’s colors.

Heard, the son of Augusta and Edward Heard of Chicago, graduated from South Shore High School, where he was a member of the football and the swim teams. His swimming prowress got him a job with the Chicago Park District, where in 1970, he became the first Black lifeguard at North Beach.

Vismale said Heard developed a lifelong love for Beatles’ music as a child. He and a cousin would be sent upstairs to bed, but on the sly with the volume turned low, they would listen to a late-night radio station that played a lot of the supergroup’s music.

One video shared by the family showed an older Heard dancing and clapping vigorously to his favorite tune “Get Back,” as a Beatles tribute band played and sang.

Vismale joined Heard at Morehouse, where the two took a class in entrepreneurship that set a course for Heard’s life. After graduating, he worked in Chicago as a management trainee with Church’s Famous Fried Chicken before moving to Philadelphia as a manager with Kentucky Fried Chicken. He then worked for Checker’s, which gave him a chance to return to Atlanta to open a restaurant, where he met Jan Prisby Bryson, who had come in to solicit money for a charity. The two later married.

Heard became president and CEO of Atlanta Franchise Development Co., which raised $32 million in 1997 to buy 100 existing Church’s restaurants, with plans to build 100 more. The company was then the industry’s largest African American-owned franchisee. Two years later, weighed down by debt, the company was sold.

When he died, Heard was president and co-owner of Master Concession ATL-AIR, an operating partner in retail and food and beverage concessions at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, and Dulles and Reagan international airports in Washington, D.C.

He joined 100 Black Men of Atlanta, a non-profit supporting and mentoring young people. He gave the organization his expertise, time and money said the group’s former president Milton Jones, Jr. Heard was especially “passionate about mentorship, about helping young people reach their potential,” Jones said. “Children liked him because they could see that he was genuine.”

Many Democratic candidates that he knew and supported attended his memorial service, including members of Congress and the current and former Atlanta mayors. President Biden sent a letter of condolence to his family.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens recalled meeting Heard when Dickens was a city council member, and, “the way he dressed, I didn’t know what he did. I thought he had a clothing store, he was so cool.”

“He was well spoken, well read, well balanced and well dressed,” said Henry Goodgame, Morehouse’s vice president for external relations and alumni engagement. “He represented everything excellent about Morehouse.”

He is survived by his wife, Jan Prisby Bryson, his children Jordan, Sydney, Taylor and Trenton (Jasmine) Heard, his stepson Bryon Bryson, two grandchildren and other family.

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Dwayne Heard