Local small business owner, previous 'Wheel of Fortune' winner gives back during pandemic

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly two and a half years after Pittsboro resident Michael Rodriguez won big on Wheel of Fortune, the Subway restaurant owner finds himself giving back to the community.

"I think now we're at a point where we're trying to learn to adapt and make do and see where we all go from here," Rodriguez said.

In January 2018, Rodriguez won a Mini Cooper, money, and a European vacation to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland on the game show. He had three kids at the time and owner and operated a Subway in Pittsboro.

RELATED: Pittsboro dad of 3 wins big on 'Wheel of Fortune'

Since the show has aired, Rodriguez now has four kids, got rid of the Mini Cooper, and bought two new stores -- one in Chapel Hill's Southern Village and the other in nearby Carrboro.

"That's why I got into this," Rodriguez said while at his Chapel Hill location. "Being a small business owner isn't like making tons of money. But you're being your own boss, you have flexibility and that was the point."

When the pandemic hit, he was remodeling his Carrboro location and had to think about his employees, while working to keep his locations thriving.

"Now it's not just one location with 10 employees you have to worry about or watch over," Rodriguez said, "Now it's 3 locations, 30-plus employees, 30 lives that I feel somewhat responsible for helping provide for their families."

He considered the situation to be unfortunate. However, he still found a way to give back by providing 80 free lunches to employees at UNC Hospitals emergency room department.

"If that's going to make them super happy and feed them and take one thing off their plate, one thing off their mind, something that can relieve a little bit of stress, why not do it," he wondered. "And I'm glad that I could."

Not only does Rodriguez do it for the community and his employees; he looks to inspire his children as well.

"Those are the values we want to instill in young people and all of our children. So hopefully it is some kind of inspiration, something for them to think about. It's tough for everybody. And even if it's tough, is there something for you to do? Then you do it! And I hope it's a message they receive and it sticks with them," Rodriguez said.
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