Jack’s: More Than Just Pizza
By David Tirrell-Wysocki
At Jack’s Pizza in Pittsfield and Alton, the cheese, crust and calzones for customers come with a heaping portion of compassion, confidence-building and career planning for employees.
In 2018, social entrepreneur Kathleen Menegozzi got involved with Jack’s with the intention of helping owner, Jason Isabelle, sell the business. Things changed when she began speaking with employees and hearing about the challenges they faced as single moms, as teens looking for life and career guidance or as folks simply working hard to try to get ahead. So, instead of selling the business, she, Isabelle and their team began developing a model to create opportunities for employees to make good lives, not just good pizza.
They are moving from a sole proprietorship owned by Isabelle to an employee-owned company that helps tackle their struggles and provides confidence-building and training for their new roles. The effort includes in-house instruction, field trips and bringing in experts to teach about everything from financial literacy and social skills to management, health and legal issues.
“We want to see if we can arrange a company where there are no titles, where we make decisions together,” Menegozzi said. “That’s not to say that every single person needs to be a part of decision-making, but it means those who want to will be trained to take that on successfully and to make difficult decisions.”
She hopes they will build a model that shows other business owners they can be successful while making their workers a priority.
Kayla Moody, 28, waited tables at various restaurants for eight years. At Jack’s, she thought she might run the front counter, take orders or learn about food production. She found much more.
“I have started to transition into overseeing business operations, taking on more leadership roles, learning how to use my voice and having that power and feeling confident in myself and really trying to focus on personal development and continuing to build on my skills,” she said.
According to Menegozzi, employee Melodie Hudgens and her honesty about challenges she faced were the inspiration for the new Jack’s.
“I said I wasn’t prepared for life,” Hudgens said. “I was left to figure out things on my own. I found my way out of it, but these guys helped me realize I can be more than that.”
Now, Hudgens, 26, is part of the leadership team benefiting from classes and training.
“I have support and people who understand me and want to help me more forward in my life and see me do better,” she said. “I never thought I would get anything like that out of life and I’m getting that out of a job.”
In February, Jack’s closed on Mondays to give team members more training time. They launched a two-and-a-half-year career development apprenticeship, with college credit, designed as a transition to a four-year university for employees and others in the community. It’s a nice fit for Antonia Moon, 21, who has worked in restaurants since high school, with no firm idea of what she wanted to do in the future.
“Jack’s opened up an opportunity where I don’t have to go to college and be in college debt and still get all of the experience and knowledge that I could in college,” said Moon, now a social enterprise apprentice.
Jack’s, at the Alton traffic circle, is managed and operated by an energic and passionate group of female high school students who choose their schedules through discussion and compromise with each other.
“I’m being provided with opportunities that pretty much no business will give high school students, such as online business management, accounting, hiring, things like that,” said Whitney Bassett, 17, who is homeschooled and a Jack’s youth leader. “It is helping people who are high school age to find their voices and start exploring what they want to do and get involved in ways they never thought that they could.”
That’s a theme for Jack’s team members: opportunities they never dreamed of. They also speak of learning, teaching and practicing respect.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s education, learning to own a business, there’s everything for everyone, no matter your age,” said Tess Ranaldi. “That’s a big thing for me. I’m 17 and I’m respected here as much as Antonia, who is 21.”
Team members take their roles very seriously. A group came to an interview armed with carefully prepared notes. Their personal experiences varied, but their message was clear: they are grateful to find skills that will serve them no matter what career they choose.
“Even if we are not going to make pizza a career, the model is about developing and helping people find their passions and what it is they want to do with their lives,” said Ranaldi, a youth leader who encourages other teens to join Jack’s workshops even if they don’t work there, to become “more well-rounded people.”
When COVID-19 struck, Jack’s stepped up. They served 258 free school lunches until area schools adapted their own lunch program after closing. In response to the pandemic, Jack’s offered sidewalk service and increased training to help team members and improve their customers’ experience. They offered online virtual work hours and training in areas like social media, human resources and software integration that will bring online ordering, automated inventory and accounting and a social media strategy to life for Jack’s.