Over the years, Tony Philiou has learned that restaurants are a challenging business and that ensuring employees are paid properly is key to his success.
Tony Philiou was a 30-year-old father of two young children when he started working at a McDonald's in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, in 1962 as a part-time crew person to make some extra money. Although he had a full-time job at an auto parts factory, he took on the role of slicing cheese for 90 cents an hour as his recently bought house required renovations. "That was the beginning," Philiou, who came to the U.S. from Greece in 1947 as a 15-year-old and served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951, told The Washington Post. Over time, he slowly took on more responsibility, climbing up the ladder as a supervisor and then manager until he finally bought the franchise in 1978.
“How are these people going to make it without paychecks?” McDonald's franchise owner Tony Philiou asked himself once the renovation plans were finalized. https://t.co/jXunv1zCU0— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 11, 2022
"I had pride in what I was doing," from the very start, the 90-year-old shared. Although he had expected his McDonald's job to be a short-term gig, he's still going strong six decades later with no immediate plans of retiring. Philiou managed his jobs at the factory and the McDonald's outlet together for 16 years, before taking the plunge and pivoting to McDonald's full-time. With the help of strong mentors, he said, he was able to move up the ranks and now hopes to do the same for his staff.
#Appreciation matters🌟— Operation Kindness (@KindnessChamps) July 12, 2022
When @McDonalds in Mayfield Heights closed to build a new building owner Tony Philiou kept paying the #employees because he #values and #respects them and the hard work they do🔆 #ubuntu #thereisgood❤️@wkyc https://t.co/NaSeFStSzb
"They saw something in me that I didn't know I had," Philiou said of his employers. "I saw an opportunity, and that I belong in the service industry." Over the years, he has learned that restaurants are a challenging business and that ensuring employees are paid properly is key to his success. It was this belief that led Philiou to decide that he would continue paying all 90 employees their regular wages when his restaurant closed for renovations for a little over three months in late March.
Tony Philiou started working at a Mayfield Heights McDonald's in 1962 as a second job. 60 years later, he's the owner, living the American dream, and literally paying it forward to his employees. https://t.co/Dcc1erGs2C— Scripps National News (@ScrippsNational) July 10, 2022
"How are these people going to make it without paychecks?" Philiou said he asked himself once the plans for the renovation were finalized. "We're going to pay everybody the full thing," he ultimately decided. "There was nobody in the world who could change my mind on what I thought was the right thing to do," he said. "Whatever they were already earning, that's what they got." Philiou, who visits the store multiple times a day to chat with staff and customers and help out with whatever he can, admitted that paying employees while the restaurant was closed "was a big investment."
"We depleted the account a little bit, but they helped make the account," he said. "They did not lose a penny. If I had to do it again, I would definitely do the same thing." Philiou's staff was stunned to hear of his incredibly bold and generous financial decision. "Employees were floored, and they were extremely appreciative," said Ed Kocsis, the general manager of the restaurant. "I thought it was fabulous." The 55-year-old started working under Philiou in 1982 as a 15-year-old saving up for college. After school, Kocsis continued working at the franchise during spring breaks and summer vacations while pursuing a degree in business management at Kent State University.
When he graduated, Philiou encouraged him to carry on his career at the franchise as a supervisor and Kocsis has been working there ever since. He isn't the only staff member to have dedicated several decades of their life to working at Philiou's McDonald's. Many have even risen through the ranks from maintenance to managerial positions. "Our turnover is very low compared with other quick-service restaurants," said Kocsis. "I think it's because they enjoy working here, and they're treated with respect. They feel good working here, so they want to stay."
Mary Conti agrees. The 78-year-old started out at the restaurant in 1977 as a crew person when her three children were old enough to go to school. "I've been working here through their education, and put a couple of them into college," said Conti, who is now a manager. "Tony has been very, very good to me and my family, and the whole crew." She now works four days a week and is "enjoying partial retirement." Conti said she wasn't shocked that Philiou continued to pay his employees despite the store's temporary shutdown, given how nicely she has been treated at work all these years. Still, she was overjoyed—and very relieved.
@Ohio @Cleveland @MayfieldHeights @McDonalds https://t.co/4ttprdfFPP— onahunttoday (@onahunttoday) July 3, 2022
"Those bills were still coming in," Conti said. "He took care of us. He did everything that he could do to make our three months at home a personal vacation. He is very thoughtful. He takes everybody individually under his wing. He treats us like family. That's the main thing." Over the course of his career, Philiou has also owned and then sold six other locations. He plans weekly pizza parties, regular celebrations and events for his staff. He also likes to celebrate successes both big and small. "Whenever they do something good, we pat their shoulder and say, 'That's a great sandwich you just made,'" said Philiou. "We praise them and thank them, and it definitely makes them reach for more. Each one of my employees has a talent. They motivate me, and I motivate them."
The renovated restaurant reopened on July 5 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "We opened up, and nobody wanted to go home," Philiou said. "I come here every day, and I work side by side with them. I am beyond proud of my employees and the people in the community. They are the battery that keeps charging me up. It has been a blessed venture for me."