His McDonald’s closed for months due to renovations. He continued to pay staff.

When Tony Philiou started working at McDonald’s in 1962, he was paid 90 cents an hour to slice cheese. He slowly took on more responsibility and became a supervisor, then a manager – until he bought the franchise.

From the start, “I was proud of what I was doing,” said Philiou, 90, who originally worked a part-time job at a McDonald’s in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, as a second source of income at age 30 years old.

At the time, he had just married and had two young children. Although he worked full-time at an auto parts factory, he had recently purchased a house that needed renovations. He needed extra money.

“It was the beginning,” said Philiou, who immigrated to Cleveland from northern Greece in 1947 and served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951.

He expected his job at McDonald’s to be a short-term one, but 60 years later he’s still going strong – with no intention of retiring. Philiou continued to work concurrently at the factory for 16 years, before taking the plunge and pivoting to McDonald’s full-time. There he had strong mentors who helped him rise through the ranks, he said, and now he hopes to do the same for his staff.

“They saw something in me that I didn’t know I had,” Philiou said of his employers. “I saw an opportunity and I belong to the service industry.”

He knows that restaurants are a tough business and, for him, making sure employees are paid properly is key to success. That’s why, when his restaurant closed for renovations for just over three months at the end of March, Philiou continued to pay the 90 employees their normal salaries.

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“How are these people going to get by without a paycheck? Philiou wondered once the renovation plans were finalized. He made a bold financial decision: “We’re going to pay everyone in full.”

“There was no one in the world who could change my mind about what I thought was the right thing to do,” he said. “Everything they were already earning is what they have.”

Paying employees while the restaurant was closed “was a big investment,” said Philiou, who visits the store several times a day to chat with staff and customers and help with whatever is needed. “We’ve exhausted the account a bit, but they helped create the account.”

“They haven’t lost a penny,” he added. “If I had to do it again, I would certainly do the same.”

The staff were amazed by his generosity.

“The employees were floored and they were extremely grateful,” said Ed Kocsis, 55, general manager of the restaurant, where he started working at 15. “I thought it was fabulous.”

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Kocsis began working under Philiou in 1982, while saving for college. He went to Kent State and continued to work at McDonald’s during spring break and summer vacation. When Kocsis earned a degree in business management, Philiou encouraged him to pursue his franchise career as a supervisor. Kocsis has been working on it ever since.

Like him, dozens of staff have dedicated decades of their lives to working at Philiou’s McDonald’s, many of whom have worked their way up from maintenance to management positions.

“Our turnover is very low compared to other quick service restaurants,” Kocsis said. “I think it’s because they like working here and they’re treated with respect. They feel good working here, so they want to stay.

This is the case of Mary Conti, 78, who started at the restaurant in 1977 as a crew member. She never left – and has no foreseeable plan to do so. Conti, now a manager, took the job when her three children were old enough to go to school.

“I worked here all through their studies and sent a few of them to college,” she said. Over the years, Conti said, she received countless “special perks” from Philiou, who sent her on several trips – including a cruise – to reward her for her hard work.

“Tony has been very, very good to me, my family and the whole team,” said Conti, who works four days a week and “enjoys partial retirement”.

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Given the quality of her treatment at work, Conti said, she was not surprised that Philiou continued to pay her staff during the store’s temporary closure. Still, she was delighted – and deeply relieved.

“These bills were still coming in,” she said. “He looked after us. He did everything he could to make our three months at home a personal vacation.

“He is very thoughtful. He takes everyone individually under his wing,” Conti continued. “He treats us like family. This is the main. »

Philiou’s daughter, who grew up around the restaurant, agreed. She has worked in the company since she was 14 years old.

“It’s like a second family to us here,” said Mary Powers, 64, who owns a McDonald’s franchise with her husband four miles away in Chesterland. “Anything we can do to show them how much we appreciate them, we do.”

His father “is the most passionate McDonald’s human being on the planet. He lives and breathes this business,” she said. “Family is first, but it’s a close second.”

Philiou bought the franchise in 1978. He has been married to his wife, Effie, for 68 years, and they have three daughters, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild. During his career, he owned and then sold six other locations. He hosts weekly pizza nights for his staff, as well as regular celebrations and events. He also likes to celebrate successes, no matter how small.

“Every time they do something good, we pat them on the shoulder and say, ‘That’s a great sandwich you just made,'” Philiou said. “We congratulate them and thank them, and that definitely keeps them asking for more.”

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“Each of my employees has a talent,” added Philiou, who said he loves every item on McDonald’s menu and always has two pickles on his burger. “They motivate me and I motivate them.”

The remodeled restaurant — which has been updated with new equipment and appliances, as well as a remodeled dining room — reopened on July 5 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We opened up and nobody wanted to go home,” Philiou said.

Teamwork, he believes, makes it all possible.

“I come here every day and work alongside them,” Philiou said. “I am beyond proud of my employees and the people in the community.”

“They are the battery that keeps recharging me,” he continued. “It has been a blessed adventure for me.”

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