Like Father, Like Son, As 29 Family Members Work At Restaurant Chain
If employees stick around for decades, the employer is probably doing something right. And if their children get jobs there too, it's probably doing something special. The steakhouse chain Smith & Wollensky can boast 29 fathers and sons out of the 200 employees at its New York location, reports Crain's New York Business. In the restaurant industry, where turnover is notoriously speedy, that's something of a miracle.
"We have 20 guys with one thing on their resumes -- Smith & Wollensky -- and I'm one of them," said General Manager Tommy Hart. The parent-child tradition began with its founder Alan Stillman, who in 1965 was a New York bachelor, "looking to meet girls," so founded the city's first singles bar.
That singles bar was called T.G.I. Fridays, and it became one of the most successful casual dining chains of all time. And the bar successfully steered female attention Stillman's way too. ("Have you seen the movie 'Cocktail'?" he said in a 2010 interview. "Tom Cruise played me!") Stillman's children grew up steeped in the restaurant industry, and today, his son Michael is his closest business partner.
"I think people stay with us for a long time because our way of running the restaurant like a mom-and-pop business," Stillman told Crain's, including good pay and benefits, and the health insurance and other benefits granted to hourly workers, since the restaurant's a union outfit.
It's a dash ironic, because T.G.I. Fridays, which Stillman sold in the 1970s, hasn't always been the kindest to its workers. In 1997, union leaders accused the Riese Organization, which ran the chain in New York, of closing unionized restaurants, and then opening up non-unionized ones in the same spot. In April, the Labor Department found that a T.G.I. Fridays in Massachusettes violated minimum wage and overtime laws. And last month, the restaurant chain's waiters in New York filed a class action lawsuit, alleging similar illegal practices.
But a restaurant that treats its employees so well that sons join their fathers on the payroll creates its own problems. "We are lucky that we haven't all killed each other yet," Executive Chef Victor Chavez told Crain's, referring to the two sons he works with in the testosterone-fueled kitchen.
But there's poignancy too. Kevin Dillon, the COO of restaurant spin-off chain Fourth Wall Restaurants, often bumps into his son, who manages the steakhouse's more casual restaurant, The Grill. "I can't believe that my son is working in a position that I started out in after I graduated from college," he said.
Twenty-three-year-old Kevin Jr. takes great pride in following pop's path, telling Crain's: "I try to show my dad that I can be just like him."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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