The Upper Crust
Food & Cuisine 2012 - Thursday, September 20, 2012
With three branches in the Bay Area — two of which are located on the south and north sides of Berkeley — and a fourth one to be opened in Pleasant Hill later this fall, Zachary’s is run under an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, in which 150 employees across the company are all able to place stock in a central pot and benefit from it when it comes time for retirement.
According to Loren Rodgers, executive director of the National Center for Employee Ownership, an ESOP is not about ownership but about management and the rights and roles specific to employees.
“Zachary’s is more likely to treat its employees like owners and have them get involved with the company,” Rodgers said. “They do this because it is the right thing to do, not because they are required to do it legally.”
Every year an employee continues working at Zachary’s, he or she gets an increased amount of Zachary’s stock in their individual account, and the value of this employee ownership account increases each year, according to Rodgers. When somebody leaves the company, the stock value turns into cash that can be doled out. If an employee chooses to stay for a long period of time, the stock has the possibility of turning into a retirement plan.
UC Berkeley alumna Leandra Schuler began working at Zachary’s while she was still in school and worked her way up the chain of command to her current position as vice president and general manager of the company. Schuler said when founders Zach Zachowski and Barbara Gabel opened the first restaurant in 1983, the employee-owned business model was born in 2003 when Zachowski and Gabel retired and sought to keep the business quality consistent.
“The (ESOP model) was the very best way to carry the Zachary’s legacy on, and it is a big mojo of what we do here,” Schuler said. “One of the fears in opting for a different professional plan and outside buyer is there is always the possibility that a corporation will want to change things fairly drastically.”
The general Zachary’s structure on the operational side involves a group of two to three managers who work at each branch daily, while they also function alongside store level management, a floor level manager, and a human resources department, according to Zachary’s president and CEO Kevin Suto. Suto said though these positions exist, all employees such as dishwashers and kitchen clerks have a chance at upward mobility in the company.
For Schuler, who said Zachary’s quenched her thirst for practical and hands-on work following graduation from UC Berkeley, Zachary’s is about keeping the workplace a positive environment for everyone involved.
“We set high standards for employees — we encourage them to have fun doing a great job and we achieve that well,” Schuler said. “We take our products and customers very seriously … we attract people from ages 3 to 90.”
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