Mercer Memories: Downing Barber, MBA ’96

Downing Barber
Downing Barber

Downing Barber is the founder and CEO of the Barberitos restaurant franchise and lives in Athens, Georgia. He earned a Master of Business Administration degree in international business from Mercer in 1996. 

1. He always dreamed of opening a restaurant.

“I feel like I was born to cook. I’ve been cooking my whole life. At the end of the day, I wanted to live out my dream,” he said.

Barber cooked at Denny’s while he was in high school and cooked in college, too. He said there’s a stereotype that the restaurant business doesn’t offer much of a career, but he loved the business and set out for success, with his MBA from Mercer there to back him.

2. He just celebrated the 20th anniversary of Barberitos.

Barber opened his first store in downtown Athens on Feb. 20, 2000. Two decades later, there are 51 Barberitos locations and 20 more in development stages. Barber said he never imagined that his business would make it this far.

“I’m really proud of what the brand’s been able to do. I had a dream of owning one store, and it’s turned into a lot bigger company than that,” he said. “We would like to continue to expand throughout the Southeast, go into secondary markets and continue to share the great food that the brand has to offer.”

3. A Mercer professor helped him get down to business.

Barber took classes with School of Business Dean Dr. Carl Joiner early on at Mercer, and the professor made quite an impact on him. 

“He told me to ‘never rest on your laurels.’ He said I was a very talented man, but I had a side of laziness that he didn’t want to see anymore. I’ve been off my laurels ever since,” Barber said. “That taught me a lot through graduate school and how to step my game up. Since then, I’ve been high-flying. Thanks for your words of advice, Dean Joiner.”

4. He gained confidence at Mercer. 

Barber was working two jobs while he was taking classes at Mercer, and he said he learned a lot about believing in himself. 

Some of his fondest memories from Mercer are of his time studying abroad in Scotland. He said that opportunity gave him the determination and courage to tackle his dreams. 

“It gave me a lot of self-confidence to go out there and do it. I found a lot of that at Mercer,” Barber said. “I enjoyed my time at Mercer. I’m impressed about what Mercer has become. It’s growing, and it’s wonderful.”

5. He urges students to take risks and follow their passions.

“When you have a care and a belief about something, you’re able to get through the tough times,” Barber said. “You’re working toward something that you believe in. Go out and open your own business. Start out and struggle and fight. Some of the largest companies today were started by one person who had a mission and wanted to do something. There’s no better reward than working for yourself because you did it. If you fail, then get up and go again because it’s just part of the journey.”