When Andrew Dana and Daniela Moreira started Timber Pizza Co. in Washington, D.C., in 2016, they had no idea what they were getting into when it came to all the people they’d be responsible for.
They knew that at the very least they wanted to treat employees right. And that was especially tested at the start of the pandemic.
“Early on, we just sort of made this decision that, if we're going to go down, we're going to go down with our whole staff,” Dana said of the pandemic’s early days.
The couple’s enterprise had grown to three D.C.-based concepts — Timber Pizza, a Neapolitan-style pizza company; Call Your Mother, a Jewish-style bagel shop; and Mercy Me, an all-day Argentinian concept — which today have seven locations and dozens of employees among them.
Dana and Moreira both cut their entire salaries for the first six weeks of the pandemic and donated it to the members of their staff who needed the funds the most.
“The business model is to make sure that our staff is super happy, because then it trickles into everything,” said Dana.
The founders then rolled out expanded benefits for their employees. Those benefits include English lessons for the back-of-house staff and Spanish lessons for the front-of-house and management staff.
Moreira, who is from Argentina and whose first language is Spanish, cited how difficult it was to come to the U.S. and not speak any English.
“When we're thinking about the benefits, and what matters to people, not all benefits are benefits for everybody. So we are always trying to find things that are actually very valuable for our employees,” she said.
That also includes classes on how to properly lift heavy items for workers in the commissary kitchen — workers who are lifting 50-pound bags of flour and 60-pound bags of honey multiple times a day.
Other classes that the founders have offered include how to open a bank account, how to buy a house and how to get a loan.
“When we're working out and taking care of our mental health, we're happier. And we're better people. So we want that to be true and accessible for everybody,” Dana said.
Aside from those benefits, the company also provides 12-week parental leave for anyone becoming a parent through birth or adoption.
How is such a small company able to offer these perks?
“It's this sort of chicken-or-the-egg thing, right?” Dana asked.
Dana and Moreira believe that giving employees the benefits is more important than the business and hope that the revenue will follow — and it has. The company enjoyed 120% year-over-year growth from January to August 2021, compared with the same period the previous year.
“Part of it was luck — like, bagels are comfort food and pizza is comfort food,” said Dana.
Another part of mental health is growth from within. At the two new Call Your Mother locations on the way, the new hires will be internal. All the general managers for the three new stores opened during the pandemic were internal, as well.
“A lot of our staff has been with us for five years,” said Dana, “and we have told them: This is going to be a place where you can build a career.”
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Contact Holly Petre at [email protected]