June 7, 2022
Jul 30, 2020
Jack’s Pizza, located in Alton and Pittsfield, NH, is not just a pizza shop. Rather, describes Jack’s Director Kathleen Menegozzi, “We use the business of pizza to support our communities and workers, who, as COVID-19 has made especially clear, are frontline workers and are essential to everything we do at Jack’s.”
As a whole, the restaurant industry is notorious for treating its workers poorly despite being the largest and fastest growing industry in the United States. In 2018 alone, 13 million in cash funnels and a small village of lobbyists were sent in to persuade elected officials to continue to uphold a sub minimum wage of $2.13 for “tipped” workers that hasn’t changed since 1991. With this stark reality in place, fifty-two percent of all workers who are at or below the minimum wage are in the restaurant industry, yet restaurant workers make up only 15 percent of all workers in all occupations earning an hourly wage. Add questionable conditions, pervasive harassment and a lack of development/opportunity and you have a full-fledged crisis not only for restaurant workers but for owners as well.
Jack’s Pizza, however, is exploring how restaurants can better engage and support their employees through trust, open communication and empathy. Their approach is more tangibly (and perhaps sustainably) foundationed on networks of support that were featured last fall at NH Businesses for Social Responsibility’s Just One Thing Sustainability Slam. Kayla Moody, Toni Ranaldi, and Raquel Sheridan joined Kathleen and Owner Jason Isabelle on stage to describe the host of life struggles they and other employees faced, from childcare to transportation to mental and physical health and wellness, and how external resources like licensed counselors, credit unions, and state programs/initiatives can help employees learn how to manage these challenges. Their winning presentation proved that small businesses can build strategic community partnerships to actively help their workers overcome life’s hardships.
“There’s this prevailing mentality in our society that you need to deal with personal life struggles at home and that you can’t bring them into work. Then, on the business end, employers feel that they don’t have the time to help struggling workers,” says Kathleen, “But supporting your employees doesn’t mean being the one to solve all these issues. There are professionals for that. So, it’s really just about pointing your employees in the right direction and supporting them in getting the help they need. Creating the type of environment where this is possible, however, does take thoughtful effort.”
After a turbulent start, Jack’s and Kathleen have both learned the value of taking “small steps,” adjusting their expectations along the way. Building trust and self-esteem, leaning on teachable moments and providing the space for vulnerability takes time. “We had to feel comfortable leading with vulnerability ourselves,” Kathleen says, “admitting that there are days that we struggle and make mistakes and that it’s okay. The effort and thought that it takes to create a culture like this may sound significant at first, but the cost of not supporting your workers in this way is far greater.” High turnover rates in the restaurant industry lead to higher employee costs and lower service quality, according to a national study on restaurant industry practices published in 2014.
“Presenting at the Slam last fall,” says Kathleen, “we really felt a sense of community with other businesses trying to make a difference in their communities and within their industries. It was fun and engaging for our team to be on stage telling our story. There was this great feeling of pride in who we are and what we stand for.”
Jack’s Pizza continues to prove that it is not just a pizza shop; their care and concern for their employees and community is as evident as ever. When schools shut down amid COVID-19 concerns, Jack’s Pizza stepped up to help provide kids meals as the Pittsfield and neighboring districts rushed to get their mobile lunch programs set up. Now, Jack’s is working on releasing a code of conduct that will set the expectation that customers treat their workers with respect and dignity or risk the possibility of being asked not to return again. Obviously, for Jack’s this ensures that their workers remain and feel safe during COVID-19, but it’s also just good business that doesn’t end there. Jack’s is also in the process of developing a resiliency training series for essential workers and leaders with renowned communication coach Leah Bonivissuto of Present Voices. Together, Leah and Kathleen intend to make these trainings available at the national level as a resource for employees and businesses alike.
Jack’s Pizza will continue to serve up goodness along with their delicious, locally sourced pizza and we’re looking forward to hearing more about their efforts and the innovative ways that the business of pizza can support and serve our communities!
To learn more about Jack’s Pizza and their transformative employee assistance program, you can contact Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her at this year’s Sustainability Slam, which will be held virtually this year on November 12th from 4-6 PM. To find out more and share your own Just One Thing story, visit nhbsr.org/JOT.