Charley’s franchisee donates kidney to ailing employee

Charley’s Grilled Subs franchisee Marcus Gilbert is only able to offer health insurance to full-time employees at his two stores in Utah, but that didn’t stop him from going all out for one of his teenage workers. Last month he gave one of his kidneys to a 17-year-old employee of the Charley’s in the University Mall in Orem.

Gilbert and the employee, Juan Delgado, were recovering at press time.

Gilbert, a former corporate trainer for AOL, became a Charley’s franchisee in 2001 when he bought a store in Layton. Earlier this year, he and his wife bought the formerly struggling Orem store, hired Delgado there, and started fundraising to help him pay for the $100,000 operation.

Among the contributors were Charley Shin, chief executive of the Columbus Ohio-based Charley’s chain, which has more than 300 locations. Shin presented Gilbert and Delgado with a check for $10,000.

Donations can be mailed to the National Transplant Assistance Fund, 150 N. Radnor Chester Rd., Suite F-120, Radnor, PA 19087. Checks, made out to the NTAF Northwest Kidney Transplant Fund, should be annotated “In Honor of Juan Delgado.”

How did you learn about Juan’s kidney problem?

His sister Esmeralda was an employee at the University Mall store when we bought it in February. In the first two weeks of running the store, she was telling me her brother needed a job. Because he had a kidney problem it was difficult for him to work. I said have him come in and we will work around it. We hired him and got to know him. I believe we met for a reason.

So how did you happen to buy the Charley’s branch that brought you and Juan together?

Last summer some people from the franchise office came down to inspect stores. They sat down with my wife and me and wanted to know if we were interested in buying the University Mall store. At the time, we weren’t. Its numbers were terrible and it wasn’t doing well.… [Then] in October, at the annual convention in Orlando they approached me again and for some reason I felt really strongly that I needed to reconsider. Could we turn it around? And we did. Sales have doubled since we took over.

It’s a pretty remarkable thing to donate an organ to an employee.

I’m discovering what a big deal this is, but to me it was never a question. The way my mom raised us.… If you have something that could help someone else, you help. I had two perfectly functioning kidneys; you only need one, and Juan had none. It was easy math.