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Mini-cast 74: Company Culture in a National Emergency

Bret Keisling takes a look at Metro Diner, a national chain founded in 1992. It's Central PA location is doing a tremendous job weathering the COVID-19 National Emergency by treating their team members like family, and going above and beyond in looking after their needs during this difficult time. (And Metro's food is amazing, too!)

Here is the Twitter video taken on October 13, 2019 that you here in this week's mini-cast:


Mini-cast 74 Transcript

Announcer: 00:03 Welcome to the ESOP Mini-cast, a great way to wrap up the week.

Bret Keisling: 00:13 Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Today we are recording and releasing this episode, it's Friday, March 20th, and I want to share just two news items related to the national emergency to put in perspective for future listeners where we are in real time as this crisis unfolds. Just this morning the federal government announced that they're moving the tax deadline from April 15th to July 15th and all of the states who by law follow the tax deadlines -- I know Pennsylvania does, I know New York does -- they, so state and federal tax deadlines will now be switched to July 15th. Last evening, Governor Gavin Newsom of California announced stay-at-home orders to all 40 million of California's residents. So again, I'm not sharing those items out all of the others for any reason other than kind of give you a data point in time at where we are as this crisis unfolds.

Bret Keisling: 01:15 What I do want to do today is share with you one story of a company that I think is handling things as well as possibly they can and I'm really glad that I'm their customer and I just want to talk about them for a little bit. Metro Diner is a national diner chain who was founded in Jacksonville, Florida in 1992. It's got a couple of hundred locations and one of them is in central Pennsylvania. It's on the Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg, PA. Regular listeners know that I have a home and office in central Pennsylvania and also one in Denver and so I split my time between the two. I've traveled extensively for the last five years. I eat almost all of my meals in restaurants and when I'm in Denver or Central PA, I tend to pick a couple of favorites and I just go there regularly for breakfast or dinner, have the same thing all the time. Not exciting, but it works for me.

Bret Keisling: 02:08 This fall I was in Metro Diner in again Mechanicsburg and I was sitting at the counter. It was a really busy Sunday morning and I was at the end of the counter just watching all of the cooks working together as a team, putting out plate after plate of food that looked great and I was so impressed as a recovering Food Network junkie to just be sitting and watching the action. So I pulled out my camera to take a couple of pictures, just 'cause I thought it was really cool. After a minute, the managing partner of this location, Mark Spencer came up to me, Mark and I knew each other at that point. Not particularly well. Mark knew that I was a podcaster involved in employee ownership. He thought of me very broadly as a business management consultant. So Mark came up to me and very concerned look on his face and just said, Bret, is there a problem? I heard you were taking a couple of pictures and I just want to make sure is there anything I need to address? And I actually was a little bit sheepish. Said, oh my goodness Mark, no, I was so impressed with how your team's working that I took a couple of photos. I just thought it was really fun.

Bret Keisling: 03:13 So Mark and I chatted for just a moment and Mark then went back to do his job. Almost immediately my server came up to me and she had a very concerned look on her face. She said, hey, I just saw you talking to the big boss. Did I do anything wrong or am I in trouble? And I actually felt very bad. I didn't realize at the time that me taking a couple of pictures would catch the GMs attention or the managing partner's attention, let alone have my server be concerned. I explained to her that everything was absolutely wonderful, that I was very impressed with her and the whole team and Mark Spencer, the managing partner. And Kandi said to me the world would be a better place if there were more bosses like Mark. Well, immediately I kind of went into my employee ownership mode, pulled out my iPhone, turned on the video and said, Kandi, would you please tell me what you meant by the world would be a better place if more bosses were like, Mark, this is how Kandi answered.

Video transcript:

Kandi: 04:13 I mean he's a nice person. He will help any body, any place. He's in the kitchen, he's at the dish, he's everyplace.

Bret Keisling: 04:23 And how does that make you feel as one of the team members to have a boss like that?

Kandi: 04:28 Wonderful.

Bret Keisling: 04:28 Let me just tell you, you and your team are amazing. This has been fun and thank you. You are too busy to talk to me, but have a great day. What's your name?

Kandi: 04:35 Kandi.

Bret Keisling: 04:36 Kandi. Thank you for everything you're doing.

Kandi: 04:38 Thank you.

Bret Keisling: 04:38 All right, bye. Bye.

Bret Keisling: 04:39 At the time I posted the video of Kandi on my Twitter feed and I think on LinkedIn and it was with a general question of how would, if you're a boss, how would you be described by an employee if they were asked spur of the moment with no time to prep. And for me it was just said such great things about Mark. Well for the last six weeks I've been back in central Pennsylvania after spending much of the winter in Denver and been going to Metro Diner again, and it's the kind of place where the servers get to know you. They'd stop, show pictures of their children, we'd have conversations, et cetera. It really is a home away from home for me. And then last week they were forced to close their dining room as a result of the coronavirus and they moved like so many restaurants did to just delivery and carry out.

Bret Keisling: 05:26 Well, Monday of this week I went in and got carry out breakfast and one of the regular servers there was Jess who was taking carry out orders. The management team was cooking, they had one server on. Everybody else has been laid off. So I got my check, gave a nice tip and just thanked me. On the next day I went back. There were no servers working at the time that I stopped in. But Kat, who's the assistant manager was there. She took my order, told me the amount. I left a nice tip and I said, Kat, this is for you. And she said, actually, Bret, when management is getting any tips, we're putting it in a fund for when the team gets back to work. And then I've had in the last day or two conversations with Mark and with Kat and with a couple of servers that I'm friends with in real life, so to speak. They're not at work, but I'm still chatting with them and texting with them.

Bret Keisling: 06:21 Here's what Metro Diner has done. In light of the crisis. They absolutely shut down in accordance with the government mandates. They instructed staff to file for unemployment. They let the staff know that they intended to reopen as soon as they were allowed to do so and that they intended to have the team back in place.

Bret Keisling: 06:43 Now I want to talk about going above and beyond and the culture of Metro Diner as it relates to this crisis. They've reached out to many of their employees, this is the management there, to make sure they filed for unemployment. They have reached out to make sure that their team members have had groceries or have offered to help. They have looked at the team members as family members, and I know that a couple of staff members there like myself, suffer from depression or anxiety on a regular basis and they've shown the care to those to reach out to simply say, hey, we care about you.

Bret Keisling: 07:19 Meanwhile, on days when none of the servers are in working during the close and management receives any tips. I did speak with Mark Spencer today and he said that they will either throw a party when the team gets back to work or take the team out somewhere, but all the tips that management receive are being earmarked to give it back in some ways to the employees. First of all, this is just so important on a, on a human nature basis and I'm so grateful that a place that I go to regularly is treating their team members like this. It's also really smart business. There are a couple of other restaurants in central Pennsylvania that I frequent. One of them in particular is a sub shop. They let the staff go with no information. There hasn't been any follow-up and essentially the employees of the sandwich shop are kind of left to fend for themselves while the team members at Metro Diner continue to be looked at as best as possible.

Bret Keisling: 08:24 And by the way, Mark is very much aware when we chatted this morning. There's only so much he can do. One of the other things when I told Mark that I was going to talk about this on today's podcast, Mark got a little bit sheepish and he said, Bret make thing one thing really, really clear. I'm very proud of how we're working with our team members, but it's on direction from the top. So in other words, Mark was careful to point out he's exhibiting these traits in his location, but it's hopefully not that different from what the company is doing. And I hope that's true, but here's how I think things are going to play out when the crisis starts to come to an end. And it will.

Bret Keisling: 09:05 Folks, if there's a lot of unemployment, people will shift jobs and that sort of thing. So the sandwich shop who didn't really look after their staff or take anything above and beyond saying, hey, we're closing our doors, good luck. They may get some of their team members back or staff members or employees, they may hire others just 'cause they're openings. But I suspect that Metro diner in Mechanicsburg is going to have essentially 100% of their team when it comes time to reopen.

Bret Keisling: 09:38 And I think that's going to be very important for two reasons. First of all, and now I'm talking strictly business for the first example. When you reopen, there's probably going to be a little bit of rust, a little bit of kinks -- so almost opening day for a restaurant. Restaurants that have their entire team back or businesses that have their entire team back are going to hit the ground running because it's just back to work.

Bret Keisling: 10:03 But here's the other thing. At this time in national crisis where people are scared and regardless of what you think about the Corona virus, how it was handled by political leaders either nationally or state, the fact of the matter is many people that I care about and other advocates care about those who are least able to sustain a crisis - folks like servers, casino workers, hourly workers, that sort of thing - you reach out to these people and go above and beyond and you let them know simply that you care that we're doing whatever we can for you and we care about you? Down the road, that culture is going to translate into a much more successful business and where servers are now, always have been, but professional Metro Diner can probably look to keeping their team in place for far longer than many other places and it's because Metro diner has stepped up.

Bret Keisling: 11:08 With that, we'll wrap up today's mini-cast. I want to thank you for listening. Folks, these are very challenging times. Feel free to reach out on social media or through email and let me know if you have any questions or things that you'd like discussed and if you know of any employee owned companies or employee owners who are going above and beyond during this crisis in one way or another, I'd love to share those stories. So thank you for joining me today on this episode. Hopefully you'll join us next week on Tuesday for the ESOP/EO podcast, and I hope with everything going on that you take care of yourself as best you can. We are all in this together and we're all going to get through this. This is Bret Keisling. Have a good day.

Bitsy McCann: 11:54 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.


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