Food & Drink

Columbia restaurant workers have a surprising ally in paying for school: their bosses

The Pita Pit has two locations in Columbia: Five Points and the Arcade on Main Street.
The Pita Pit has two locations in Columbia: Five Points and the Arcade on Main Street. FILE/THE STATE

Businesses giving back to their communities is not a new idea, especially for nationwide chains.

What IS new are small- to mid-sized franchises, some operating locally, that have adopted the idea as their own. For John Thrash Jr., who owns two Pita Pit franchises in Columbia, his idea of giving back comes from personal experience.

Thrash’s son, John III, worked at the Pita Pit in Five Points while attending the University of South Carolina.When Pita Pit USA began to encourage franchise owners to find ways to give back to their community, Thrash’s idea was a no-brainer: set up a monetary incentive for his employees to further their education.

While larger companies such as Starbucks and McDonald’s have plans in place for helping employees further their education, not many smaller restaurant chains offer that type of assistance.

In Thrash’s system, Pita Pit will contribute 50 cents per hour for every hour worked in the first 120 days of employment towards education expenses or to a charitable organization of the employee’s choice. After an employee works 240 days, the rate goes up to $1 for every hour worked; at 360 days, the rate is $1.50 per hour.

The money is in addition the employee’s regular pay, and only accrues for hours worked says Thrash. Vacations or breaks in scheduling do not count toward funding. Currently, between his locations in Five Points and in The Arcade on Main Street, Thrash has 24 new employees working towards the first 120 day goal.

Pita Pit USA is not alone in looking out for employees. Other mid-range chains operating locally include:

Zoë’s Kitchen: The Goodness Fund launched in November 2017 as a charitable fund set up by the corporation to provide monetary grants to Zoë’s Kitchen team members experiencing “unforeseen emergencies that they are not financially prepared to deal with, such as serious illness, natural disaster, and other grave challenges.” The non-profit organization’s seed money comes from the company and sustaining funds will come from Zoë’s Kitchen team members’ voluntary payroll deductions or donations. All current Zoë’s Kitchen team members, whether they support The Goodness Fund or not, are eligible to apply for and to potentially receive a grant. Currently, Zoë’s Kitchen has 5 locations in the Midlands.

Spinx: This Greenville-based chain of gas and convenience stores in South Carolina, has been giving back since its founding in the 1970s. The Spinx Employee Assistance Fund was created to benefit Spinx team members in times of financial hardship. Spinx has 81 locations throughout the state.