Owner of closed Chick-fil-A location covers paychecks of workers and community benefits

·5 min read
Sarah Conwell, left, and her coworker Eric Gorring put their boss, Erich Weiss, the owner of Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A to work as they volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Weiss is paying employees their normal wages while his store is closed for renovations for three months. In return, he's asking them to volunteer at a few non profits.
Sarah Conwell, left, and her coworker Eric Gorring put their boss, Erich Weiss, the owner of Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A to work as they volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Weiss is paying employees their normal wages while his store is closed for renovations for three months. In return, he's asking them to volunteer at a few non profits.

The Chick-fil-A in Cuyahoga Falls has been closed for weeks now.

But that doesn't mean its workers are not still serving others.

While construction crews remodel the popular eatery's kitchen and dining area, its workers are still showing up for their shifts.

Instead of serving up chicken sandwiches and nuggets, these workers are still uttering those famous words "my pleasure" and have been out in the Greater Akron community doing volunteer work to earn a paycheck.

Erich Weiss, who has owned the Chick-fil-A franchise in the Falls since it opened in 2007, said he's been surprised by the reaction he gets when folks learn that he's been paying his employees their full regular paychecks since April 1, when the restaurant closed.

"I get a lot of looks when I tell someone," he said.

Erich Weiss, Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A owner, is paying his 110 employees their normal wage while his store is closed for renovations for three months.
Erich Weiss, Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A owner, is paying his 110 employees their normal wage while his store is closed for renovations for three months.

The reaction is puzzling, he said, because it is just the right thing to do.

Before owning the franchise, Weiss worked in the oil and gas industry, which has its fair share of ups and downs.

And during the inevitable downturns and layoffs — countless lives were upended.

When the fortunes would reverse, Weiss said, all those workers who were let go never returned to work for the company again.

"I swore if I ever owned a business I would never do that to someone," he said.

All these years later, he was put to the test.

Closing Cuyahoga Falls Chick-fil-A location

Although the Falls Chick-fil-A might have seemed relatively new, it was in need of an upgrade.

Weiss said much of the work that is now being done is to reflect changing customer demands.

The restaurant is popular. And its drive-thru, where time is of the essence, is perhaps a bit too popular.

Improvements are being made to the so-called "back of the house," where the sandwiches and other menu items are prepared.

Weiss said these kitchen improvements are being made to eliminate steps — literally and figuratively — to get the food out the door or to the dining room hot and fresh and as quickly as possible.

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But this all meant having to shut the restaurant down for weeks, potentially leaving his workers without a paycheck.

So he made them a deal.

Promise to be patient and they will still have a job once the work is completed and they will never miss a single paycheck.

All the workers have to do in return, he said, is go out and volunteer as a group at some nonprofits and rest up in anticipation of the reopening, which is expected to be in mid-June.

A good deal for workers

Of his 110 employees, Weiss — who lives in Hartville — said all but five took him up on his offer.

He did have 22 workers — mostly managers and supervisors — agree to go work temporarily at other Chick-fil-A locations in the Akron area that are not owned by him.

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Weiss said this was a way to help out other franchise owners amid the labor crunch and let these workers get the experience of working at a different location.

Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A employee Gia Dimiceli grabs cans of food to be processed as she and her fellow coworkers volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A employee Gia Dimiceli grabs cans of food to be processed as she and her fellow coworkers volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

To sweeten the deal, he said, those workers get to collect their regular pay from that location and he personally is kicking in an additional $2 per hour bonus.

The only caveat, he said, is that they were not allowed to work any overtime because he wants all of his workers — like those doing the volunteer work — to take this time while the restaurant was closed to "refresh" and do things with their families, too.

He wouldn't say exactly how much it is costing him to pay his workers while the restaurant is closed, but that it is well into six figures.

Weiss said he's been planning for the remodeling for years and he set aside money during that time to be able to pay his workers while the restaurant is closed.

This was a way to not only ensure his workers are taken care of, but also to give back to the community that has supported his restaurant all these years.

Helping make a difference

The workers have been participating in community service efforts in and around Cuyahoga Falls and Akron, including work at the Haven of Rest and the Peter Maurin Center.

"This is a community thing," Weiss said. "The community has supported us and we are now giving back to that same community."

The whole full circle idea came full circle this past week as Chick-fil-A workers sorted and boxed items at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

A couple bottles of Chick-fil-A Polynesian sauce were among the variety of donated goods collected recently by area postal carriers.

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Phoenix Hanratty, 18, of Cuyahoga Falls, had to chuckle at the sight.

The junior at Bellarmine University is back home for the summer and instead of making mac and cheese and nuggets as usual, he's enjoying the change of pace being out in the community doing volunteer work.

Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A employees Phoenix Hanratty, left, Benita McDonald, Sarah Conwell, Eric Gorring, Madison Violand, Aaliyah Aguirre, Christian Le, Keturah Pritchard and Timothy Greer volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A employees Phoenix Hanratty, left, Benita McDonald, Sarah Conwell, Eric Gorring, Madison Violand, Aaliyah Aguirre, Christian Le, Keturah Pritchard and Timothy Greer volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

Juggling college and all those associated expenses is stressful enough, he said, so knowing that your job and paycheck are secure brings a sense of peace.

"Erich is a different kind of boss," Hanratty said. "He's a really good man."

Craig Webb, who even dunks his waffle fries in Chick-fil-A sauce, can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.

Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A employee Christian Le cleans a can of donated food as he and his fellow coworkers volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Cuyahoga Falls Chick-Fil-A employee Christian Le cleans a can of donated food as he and his fellow coworkers volunteer Monday at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cuyahoga Falls Chick-fil-A closed for updates, but workers still paid