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‘I put my staff first’: Langford pizzeria goes above and beyond for employees

MOD Pizza prioritizes hiring and supporting people who may face barriers to traditional employment, like developmental disabilities and past incarceration

By Brishti Basu
August 5, 2022
Business
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘I put my staff first’: Langford pizzeria goes above and beyond for employees

MOD Pizza prioritizes hiring and supporting people who may face barriers to traditional employment, like developmental disabilities and past incarceration

By Brishti Basu
Aug 5, 2022
Ryan Hunter carries a stack of pizza boxes through MOD Pizza in Langford. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Ryan Hunter carries a stack of pizza boxes through MOD Pizza in Langford. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Business
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘I put my staff first’: Langford pizzeria goes above and beyond for employees

MOD Pizza prioritizes hiring and supporting people who may face barriers to traditional employment, like developmental disabilities and past incarceration

By Brishti Basu
August 5, 2022
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‘I put my staff first’: Langford pizzeria goes above and beyond for employees
Ryan Hunter carries a stack of pizza boxes through MOD Pizza in Langford. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

When Ryan Hunter moved to Victoria about five years ago, he was working towards joining the Victoria Police Department. Then, when a cab he was in crashed, he was left with a serious head injury.

The accident left him with memory issues and communication challenges, making it difficult for him to continue pursuing his chosen field. 

So he switched gears and, about three years ago, applied to work at MOD Pizza in Langford. Owned by franchisee Jim Hayden, this is the first Canadian location of the American chain that puts a heavy emphasis on its philanthropic goals. 

Part of the company’s mission is to prioritize hiring “people in communities who are often overlooked and face real barriers to employment,” according to the company’s website. This includes people with disabilities and people who have been incarcerated in the past, among others. 

Hunter, when he first started working at MOD Pizza as a supervisor, said he had a difficult time getting used to the job because of his injuries, but with time, space, and practice he grew into it. Now, Hayden has offered Hunter a partnership role at the franchise.

“I never thought I'd be staying here this long but he’s the kind of person… I think he's meant to be in your life for a reason,” Hunter said. “It just makes everyday a good day at work.”

Hayden, the owner, had a culinary and business background before opening MOD Pizza in Langford’s Belmont Market. He is currently a partner at Brown’s Social House in Uptown, and formerly held the same title at Noodle Box. That, combined with a personal tragedy in his past, inspired him to open a pizzeria with a strong background of providing social support. 

Hayden mans the counter. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

“Sadly, I lost my brother to suicide about 10 years ago,” Hayden said. “It traumatized me in a lot of ways, but it's also taught me a lot about mental health and how I can take that kind of pain that I went through and support other individuals.”

Hayden says he’d hired 25 people when he first opened MOD Pizza in December 2019, some of whom had a history of incarceration, developmental disabilities, and other barriers to traditional employment. When the pandemic hit, many of them had to be laid off with the restaurant shut down for several weeks. 

The pandemic has led many to become disillusioned and leave the service industry after they were laid off, as reported by Capital Daily earlier this year. Ian Tostenson, CEO of BC’s Restaurant and Food Services Association, said in April that the industry has lost about 20% of its workforce, and around 3,000 BC restaurants have closed down since March 2020.

But the pizzeria has largely recovered and operates with about 18 staff members.

“We still have a handful of our original staff members [since before the pandemic], which I’d say that's pretty impressive especially in the food industry,” Hunter said. 

He owes this largely to the positive and uplifting work environment at the restaurant—something Hayden says he has worked hard to create.

“A lot of the common practice that is said in restaurants and business is that customers come first,” Hayden said. “I have a bit of a different philosophy. I put my staff first and then in turn, what happens is the staff are so motivated and they're treated so well that they in turn pass that on to customers.”

Beyond offering benefits to all employees, every MOD Pizza branch has a “Bridge Fund”—a certain amount of money from revenue set aside each quarter—available to employees in case of financial emergencies. 

Most recently, Hayden used $3,000 from that fund to buy a vehicle for an employee who lives north of the Malahat, so that they could travel to work. Hayden says the fund has been used countless times to pay for mental health counselling, and also to help staff pay for gas when prices began to surge. 

“It’s quite often something that I have to almost push on to the employees,” Hayden said, referring to the Bridge Fund. “It's not something people are accustomed to.” 

Now that the company has largely recovered from the pandemic, they’re looking to expand and hire more employees. Indeed and Craigslist—some of the usual places for companies to share  job postings—are secondary tools for Hayden. He says they first reach out to organizations like Community Living BC, Best Buddies, Garth Homer Society, and, more recently, the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre. 

Cole Fraser was accessing services at Garth Homer Society when he first met Hayden, and was hired to fold pizza boxes when MOD Pizza first opened. Fraser had a care worker to support him for the first two months while he got used to the role; then, he was able to work on his own. 

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While we talked, Fraser had been busy folding and stacking so many pizza boxes that they were now threatening to hit the ceiling. Examining his handiwork, he told me about the staff meeting in which, after receiving glowing feedback for his work ethic, he was promoted to “box manager.” 

“He’s become so good at it that now he does all the boxes in house, and that’s almost 500 per day,” Hayden said. Fraser is also supported by his managers in other ways—for example, they take turns driving him to and from work. 

Ryan Hunter, Cole Fraser, Jim Hayden. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

Hayden plans to continue hiring people like Fraser and Hunter when he expands MOD Pizza to a second location in Nanaimo by December. When that happens, Hunter will take over as a partner at the Langford location. Ultimately, Hayden says, the goal is to support more employees to go from entry level to partnership roles. 

“The growth for my business isn’t necessarily just for myself… it's about my staff,” he said.  

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‘I put my staff first’: Langford pizzeria goes above and beyond for employees
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