I write about Allan Jones – W. Allan Jones, Jr., if I were still on staff at The New York Times – in a piece for The Huffington Post. The Cliff's Notes version of that post: Let’s just say that Mr. Jones (pictured) and those around him are not the most progressive bunch on issues of race and gender – and, too, this man who was the first to see the potential to strike it rich making small denomination loans to the working poor has a rather gluttonous appetite for money.
Below are some book outtakes that might shed light on this outspoken man who fathered the $40-billion-a-year modern-day payday lending business – and longs for the days when he was collecting more than 500 percent interest on the money he loaned out through these small denomination, short-term loans, rather than settling for the mere 390 percent he makes in most states where his company, Check Into Cash, operates:
In the HuffPo piece, I imply Jones is only about money. Maybe that’s not entirely true. Jones owns two jets but, to make extra cash, he created an entity he calls Jones Airways and rents the planes out for a hefty fee. He rented a jet for the day to the Obama campaign in 2008 and they returned it, he said, with a broken windshield. So when confederates for Michelle Obama approached his people about renting out the plane for the duration of the campaign, he said no. “I couldn’t trust that they wouldn’t wreck the thing,” he said.
No surprise, maybe, that Jones loves Fox News – so much so that it even blares in the bathrooms of the Bald Headed Bistro, the restaurant he owns in his home town of Cleveland, Tenn. And he seems to hate MS-NBC and Rachel Maddow with equal passion. Maddow ran a hard-hitting segment on Jones, culling the vanity website he had created in search of unflattering facts. The next day, the site had been taken down and replaced with a yellow “under construction” sign.
To make the point that payday stores don’t generate nearly as much money as people think, Jones tried hard to show me that he's a regular Joe. On a Sunday, we drove down to Chattanooga to watch a wrestling match, Jones behind the wheel of a pickup truck, dressed in frayed jeans and scuffed boots. “I don’t wear expensive suits,” he tells me. “I don’t wear expensive shoes.”
Yet it’s hard to miss noticing some of his other expenditures that reveal him to be anything but the second coming of Sam Walton or Warren Buffett. In BROKE, I mention the jets and the various ginormous yachts he's owned and the mansion he built for himself in Cleveland, modeled on a famous home that George Vanderbilt, Robber Baron, built for himself. I didn’t talk as much about some of his other, more expensive hobbies. “Cars are my passion,” he told me – so he has a special, air-controlled storage facility on his property to house a car collection that includes a vintage Rolls, a vintage Bentley, and a mint condition Camaro z28 muscle car he drove as a teen.
In the book I probably also give short shrift to the football field he has built on his property. It’s a well-manicured, regulation-sized field complete with lights, bleachers, and what Yachting magazine, in a feature article about Jones, described as “a magnificent field house that many small colleges would kill for.” I'll confess to finding it exhausting, his whole “I own this building, I own that property” patter whenever we drove around town. He seemed to own half the town but mainly he felt sorry for himself. He’s easily cleared $200 million as a payday lender but I visited Jones in early 2009, after real estate prices had fallen. Why were critics beating on him for making his measly $400 payday loans when it was the big boys selling six-figure toxic mortgages that did in the global economy?
I wasn’t sure which Jones was on display when he gave me a tour of his restaurant – the thrifty, hard-nosed businessman or the nouveau riche entrepreneur who indulges every new passion. Jones spent a small fortune on this restaurant designed to bring a touch of Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Cleveland. He flew in the trunks of a couple of hundred oak trees fell in a Jackson Hole fire and had them attached to the walls inside and out, log-cabin style, to create a lodge feel. He hired the finest chef he could lure to Cleveland and built him a kitchen as impressive as it was costly. The food is expensive ($39 for the elk tenderloin served in a cabernet sauce, $28 for the sea bass flown in from Hawaii) and also exquisite. Yet it’s as if Jones, ever the practical businessman, couldn’t help himself. He built the Bald Headed Bistro in the abandoned, ‘60s-era shopping center he had bought for a song years earlier. So now this white linen restaurant shares an address with a pawn shop and payday storefront and sits across a busy thoroughfare from a Dollar General and a used car lot.