Employer Corner: BiteZ, Victoria

Not all sandwiches are created equal. There’s the peanut butter and honey that appeared in my lunchbox on a daily basis and then there’s the Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich at BiteZ. Some six months of tinkering is behind this memorable creation. The secret is in the tahini slaw, which owners Doug and Mindi Kobayashi painstakingly reverse engineered.

Engineering is nothing new to Doug. Following a successful career in aeronautical engineering, he opened the Colwood sandwich shop for his daughter to run and then ended up taking the helm. Unlike much of his competition in the market, he makes a point of locally sourcing his ingredients, whenever possible. And the local focus doesn’t stop there. Doug and his wife funnel their profits from the business back into the community. The line out the door on a recent Saturday says it all: BiteZ Sandwich Bar is onto something. Doug says the shop’s community orientation has converted a number of local politicians into regular customers.

It would seem the business is no less popular with its employees. “We don’t have any problems with retention that’s for sure,” says Doug. “Our staff all want to come back and work for us in the summer.” He says most employees at BiteZ are fresh out of high school and he pushes them to continue their education. In the meantime, he takes his role as career mentor seriously: “I’m trying to teach them how work/life really works.”

Doug is in the process of filling two vacancies, and considering a WorkLink Job Options graduate for one of them. When I spoke with him the interview was pending. So I asked him a few questions on behalf of aspiring employees.

What do you look for in an employee?

Work ethic. It’s the attitude I want. In the service industry, we train anyway. Sure, we ask that you have FOODSAFE, but the big thing is the attitude, how you present yourself. Look me in the eye when you talk to me.

Attitude and accountability. If you’re scheduled for a shift, you’ve got to show up.

How does a job applicant make a lasting impression on you?

It all starts off with impression they make when they come into the store. I’m not a fan of texting and emailing. I judge a lot by faces. On three different occasions, girls started texting while interviewing and I ended the interview right away. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me!

A jacket and tie are not appropriate here. It’s the smile and engagement that I look for. You know that’s how they are going to engage the customer.

What sort of background check do you do? Do you use social media to evaluate a job applicant?

No. But I do a reference check. If it’s a brand new job, say for an 18-year-old, I want a letter from a teacher or parental type figure who can give them a personal reference.

What makes your shop a great place to work?

Empowerment. The girls [the staff is currently all female] will all tell you that they have ability to make the customer something else; they don’t have to come and ask me. I give them lots of responsibility, mainly because they’re there more than we are.

I tell them, “Pretend you are serving a meal to your mother – you’ve got to be proud of it.” When I get excellent customer feedback — somebody says, that was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had — I say, “See that girl, she made it for you.” To be recognized is a big deal, and a lot of our employees are not used to that.

I used to be president and CEO of a billion-dollar company. My assistant kept track of all the birthdays and [on that day] I personally shook my employees’ hands and asked them about their families. They were in shock that I took the time to do this. I try to bring that attitude to a smaller place. In a larger company, everybody works in their silos. Here you do a little of everything

By Kate Wiley. This is originally published in the LEAD sheet by Worklink. Reprinted with permission from Kate Wiley.

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