Milton Guevara-Navas is a bit of a unicorn in the fast-casual food universe: He’s been with the same company, Illegal Pete’s, for 21 years. Hired as a teenager, Milton has steadily risen through the ranks from dishwasher, to cook, to line worker, and he’s now the General Manager of Illegal Pete’s on the Hill. He considers his boss, Pete Turner, a member of the family. Milton is not alone. Each cook that works with him has been with Illegal Pete’s for at least ten years. So what keeps employees there for so long?
For one thing, the salary is enough to earn a real living. Working full time at Illegal Pete’s has allowed Milton to buy a home and car, and he’s successfully supporting his wife and child. “Most of my co-workers couldn’t even cover rent. But when they started working at Pete’s, they could rent an apartment, take care of their kids, and feel more stable in general.” His average cook works 40 hours a week over 4 days, which leaves them time to have other interests and even travel for vacation. “They live happy, that’s why they stick around.” Milton can think of only one employee who holds down two full-time jobs, and that’s because he wants to.
The second thing that keeps him there is Pete’s commitment to treating his employees fairly, no matter where they come from or what they look like. This respect trickles down to the customer experience. Pete takes care of his employees and the employees take care of the customers.
“When employees feel safe, it creates a friendly environment for everyone that’s in the store. Having employees care about the business makes customers want to stick around because they feel cared for.”
“It’s a big family,” Milton says.
He feels it’s worth restructuring one’s business to give a living wage to employees because everyone benefits. “Define what kind of business you want to be and start developing that. As long as you take care of your employees, people will come. Creating the right environment will make your bottom line.”
Business is up, Milton says. And he would know, as he enters his 22nd year.