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NYC Restaurant Sees Long-Term Benefits of Employee-First Policy and Transparent Decision-Making

This article is one in a series highlighting the Best for NYC, a growing community of more than 1,500 local businesses focused on improving the lives of their workers. To learn more about the 2019 campaign, visit bestfor.nyc.

By Alice Maggio

“We err on the side of generosity with our staff,” says Aleta Maxwell, chief human resources officer at Dos Toros Taqueria, a series of restaurants that has been serving up tacos, burritos, salads and quesadillas since 2009. “We’ve found that if you always ensure that the employees are seen, heard, appreciated and given the tools they need to succeed, that will then impact the guest’s experience in a great way.”

This formula seems to be working. Dos Toros just opened its 15th location in New York City, and last year it opened three restaurants in Chicago. But it all started a lot smaller. Brothers Oliver and Leo Kremer founded the company out of simple need: When they moved to New York City, they sorely missed the San Francisco tacos and burritos they had eaten all their lives. But the brothers brought something more than high burrito standards.

“Leo and Oliver genuinely want to do the right thing all the time,” Maxwell says. “They feel that if you do what’s right, the numbers will tell the story.”

Maxwell, who joined Dos Toros in 2012, says, “This is the first company that I’ve experienced where there is an employee-first mentality.” This approach informs all company policy. For example, staff are paid for their break time and are entitled to free shift meals. All staff are classified as full time, regardless of the number of hours they work, so that they can access the company’s health care plans.

Some of these practices might sound like common sense and others might sound expensive, but Maxwell says that for Dos Toros, these policies actually contribute to the long-term health of the company. “Yes, we may end up spending more on the front end for employee benefits and employee meals, but at the end of the day we end up saving a ton of money because we do not have as many turnover costs.” Employee turnover costs often add up to between $2,400 and $5,000, Maxwell says, so building a loyal and well-supported team can really mean cost savings.

Maxwell is also quick to point out the other side of the equation. “If you have employees that are disengaged, you feel that on your bottom line,” she says, indicating the problems that can result when employees do not take pride in their work. On the other hand, she says, “when employees are happy and taken care of, they will do what’s right, even when no one else is around.”

To that end, Maxwell says: “We hire for personality and train for skill. We believe that we can train anybody to butcher a steak the correct way, but we can’t necessarily train a great coachable personality. There is nothing we like more than developing a crew member.”

Along with coaching, Dos Toros uses an online platform called “Dos Toros University” to support continued learning. Employees can win points for completing training modules, and the points can then be converted into Dos Toros swag. The platform also provides a means to celebrate employee birthdays and accomplishments. In a fast-growing company like Dos Toros, Maxwell says, it is important to find tools like this that continue to connect employees to each other, to the mission, and to the founders. “Every month Leo and Oliver will communicate different ‘whys’ — why we do what we do — so we’re always really transparent on the decisions we make.”

One of the decisions that the company made was to serve only antibiotic-free chicken, pork and beef. The restaurant also uses compostable paper goods, BPA-free receipt paper, and reclaimed wood interiors. The kitchen composts all food scraps, and customers are encouraged to recycle. Maxwell explains that all these decisions are related, because what is good for the farm animals is also good for the eaters, and what’s good for the environment is also good for the staff and the customers: “It’s not only respecting our guests, but it’s respecting our staff, our guests, and the environment at large.”

Since the beginning, founders Oliver and Leo and company leaders like Maxwell have been finding ways that the company can make a difference in New York City. As part of its hiring strategy, Dos Toros has partnered with Getting Out Staying Out, an organization dedicated to reducing recidivism and preventing justice involvement by connecting young men to meaningful work opportunities. Other partner organizations include South Bronx United and the New York Food Bank. Twice a year, Dos Toros puts on a Day of Giving, when staff members are paid to volunteer in their communities. Maxwell says the goal is to be “part of the solution.”

When asked about the $15 minimum wage, Maxwell says that Dos Toros is in full support of a living wage and is proactively planning for the increase. Yes, it means finding new efficiencies, but “it’s about doing what’s right for our staff.” When you only do the minimum required, she says, “it sets you up for playing defense. But we’d rather play offense. We’d rather invest in our team.”

And while wages, benefits, training, and sourcing are all important investments, Maxwell points to one more that might be her favorite. “Every summer we shut down all of our locations and we go on a boat around the Hudson river to party, to appreciate each other, and to say thank you to all of our employees that have made it a successful year.”

Dos Toros Taqueria is a member of Best for NYC, an initiative of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development in partnership with B Lab. Best for NYC aims to build a shared understanding that businesses can thrive financially while also making decisions that benefit their workers and their community.

Dos Toros Taqueria: Do What’s Right and Success Will Follow was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Originally posted on B the Change - Medium by Best for NYC.

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