A “culture of recognition” is a term you’ll find on hundreds of corporate brochures and websites. Though many give lip service to the idea of recognizing employees for their hard work, Pizza Hut strives to bring this culture to life and sees the true value of shining a light on team member efforts.
Gaby Ruiz learned this lesson at her very first job, as an 18yr old line cook at a Pizza Hut location in Miami where a seemingly simple acknowledgement of a hard-won skill made the difference between quitting in frustration and a fruitful 21-year career.
When Gaby joined the Pizza Hut team in March of 1995, she had no idea that a product was about to be introduced that would forever alter the pizza game. As I’m sure some of you Hut Lover’s have already guessed, this was the introduction of the one and only Original Stuffed Crust® pizza. The stuffed crust is a regular part of the menu now, but most of America had never seen anything like it at the time and according to Gaby their customers couldn’t get enough of it.
Stuffed crust was not only a revelation for the customers but the team members as well. It required a different process to produce and a defter hand to fit all of that delicious cheese into the crust. Gaby readily admits that after her first day of working the line by herself with orders coming in non-stop and demands for the new pizza going through the roof she went home in tears. “It was so stressful! I went home crying and told my dad that I couldn’t go back.”
Thankfully for us, Gaby did return the next day and the next despite each shift being more trying than the last. After about a week she came in to learn that District Manager Tony Ruiz was planning a visit to her store that day. When Tony arrived, Gaby remembers that he made a point to say hello to everyone, but the first thing he did was go straight to the ovens to see how the pizzas were looking.
He pulled a stuffed crust pizza off the line and asked the back of the house staff who had made it. Heart in her throat Gaby stepped forward, certain she was about to be held up as an example of what not to do. To her never ending relief Tony informed her that it was the BEST pizza he had seen all week. He even made it a point to gather the team and share with them Gaby’s accomplishment and insisted that she show him her process so he could see for himself her technique.
To a young Gaby, this was a life changing moment. “When he told me that, for the first time, I felt a sense of belonging in a place.”
Inspired by Tony’s simple act, Gaby decided she wanted to stay with the company and 21 years later as a Restaurant Training Lead she is a living testament to the power of recognition.
“It has to start with the management,” Gaby says. “If they support their crew and recognize their team members, people will do anything for you. They’ll get behind you no matter what.”
That one instance lead to wide open possibilities for Gaby, possibilities that she has embraced as an integral member of her team at Pizza Hut. Now, every day she helps lead teams to create products that we’re proud to serve.
Thank you, Tony, for living out our culture of recognition and thank you, Gaby, for taking it and running with it to truly become your best!