The Hudson Retail Group is a transportation icon -- the place to grab a snack, a magazine or book. With 700 locations at terminals in the U.S. and Canada, the company employs 6,000 and generates $900 million a year. Its mission is to be the "traveler's best friend."
President and CEO Joe DiDomizio was groomed to take over the business by his father Mario, who insisted the only way to learn it was by starting out in the stores. After college, Joe began working at New York's LaGuardia Airport, which meant waking up at 3:30am, opening the stores and closing at 10pm.
"It was a grind," he recalled on Friday's episode of Undercover Boss. "But it gave me that tenacity and desire to succeed."
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After learning all aspects of the business, the younger DiDomizio became president and CEO in 2008.
Testing barista concept
Disguised as "Bobby Stevenson," an over-aged beach bum,vying for a cash prize, DiDomizio encounters Elizabeth, a barista at a Hudson News outlet in the Seattle Tacoma Airport. She's worked for the company ten years. This coffee-loving city is one of the test centers for a coffee/bakery concept. If successful, it will roll out to other Hudson locations.
You have to keep evolving, DiDomizio notes, and this concept is an example of that.
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"We've got the best coffee in the building because I work here," the bubbly Elizabeth assures Bobby. A bundle of chatty energy, she warns Bobby not to touch the hot milk spigot on the latte machine, or he might just hit the roof or pee his pants because of the scalding temperature.
"When I first met Bobby, I thought he was kooky," she confides. "I think Bobby needs a haircut."
Boss flubs the register
Bobby manages to handle a tall latte, but falls flat when it comes to register duty. When Elizabeth leaves him alone to tidy up outside, he can't get the register to swipe properly, creating an impatient customer who has to catch a flight.
Finally, the customer substitutes a $50 bill so he can get going. Bobby makes the correct change but flubs the change for the next customer, who calls him on it. The line is growing.
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"I'm blowing it," Bobby says, confessing to being frazzled. Each time a flight lands it brings a new rush of customers. "He screwed up," Elizabeth observes, noting Bobby has to get quicker. "Do it fast because they don't want to stand around. I had to learn to work fast."
"Elizabeth is so great at her job," DiDomizio tells the camera. "She's not only the traveler's best friend. She's making this concept so good for us. People come to see her."
While cleaning tables, Elizabeth confides she is the sole support for her daughter,
son and their two kids who live with her.
Managing with illness
"Honest to God, I'd like to live on my own," she says, then tells Bobby she is working with numbing carpal tunnel in three fingers and should get surgery. But she has no sick leave and can't afford it. To top it off, she is diabetic, but is able to work.
DiDomizio, who developed diabetes while in college, bonds with Elizabeth and shows her an insulin doser he says gives him better control over his disease than taking shots.
"Elizabeth has so many challenges and so many financial responsibilities," he observes. "She shouldn't have to choose between medical emergencies and taking care of her family."
When it comes time for the big reveal, Elizabeth recognizes DiDomizio as Bobby. "You know how I knew it was you," she says. "Your smile."
DiDomizio agrees to pay for Elizabeth's carpal tunnel surgery and for her salary while she is recovering. He throws in her rent for the year and $20,000.
"I don't want to cry because I look ugly when I cry. Thank you so much. You didn't have to do this," she says, "because I like what I'm doing. I really do."
Flirting with the boss
"Thank you so much. You are one beautiful man.... you know what? I haven't been hugged by a man in a long time," she says, going in for a big squeeze.
"Twenty thousand dollars! I can't believe how happy I am and how happy he made me," she says. "He's so good looking, too. Oh my God, I didn't think he was that good looking!"