Giuliana Calascibetta wants her employees to earn more than just a paycheck from their job at Cam's Pizzeria.

Pizza Power Report 2024

Why Culture Is Key to Attracting High-Performing Young Workers

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By Rick Hynum

If you’re one of those pizzeria operators who complains that “young people don’t want to work anymore,” take a good, hard look at your company’s culture. Why would they want to work for you?

“They should just want to work, period,” is no longer the right answer, according to Giuliana Calascibetta, district manager of Cam’s Pizzeria in Rochester, New York. “A lot of businesses are, like, ‘It’s all about how you take care of your employees.’ That’s what they always say, but then they don’t walk the walk,” she says. “They read it in an article or a book. OK, well, apply it!”

Giuliana, known to her social media followers as Pizza Princess G, and her sister, Bianca Calascibetta, now run the small chain their father founded in 1980. Both women are young, inventive and smart—and they’re realists who also hold dearly certain ideals typical of their generation. They know most Gen X-ers won’t work for the wage a pizzeria can afford to pay. That leaves Millennials and Gen Z. And they’re, well, a little different. Personal development and growth opportunities mean as much to them as a fat paycheck.

“They don’t want to feel like a number,” Bianca says. “They don’t want to feel like a cog in the wheel. They’re not motivated by money. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but they want to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Alex Koons, owner of Hot Tongue Pizza and co-owner of Purgatory Pizza, both in Los Angeles, defines “culture” as “a living set of values.” As he wrote in a May 2023 article for PMQ, “If values aren’t intentionally put in place, the staff will naturally create their own culture, and it could be one of laziness, resentment and disdain.” Koons’ key values are honesty, hard work, courage, perseverance and empathy.

This photo shows three Hot Tongue Pizza employees wielding their pizza peels in comedic fashion in front of the restaurant.
Hot Tongue team members Andrew Alvarez, Josh Cardona and Michael Hiller. (Photo by Miriam Brummel)

But just as importantly, Koons, who was featured in PMQ’s May 2023 issue, creates an environment where his employees want to come to work every day—in part because they never know what crazy idea their boss hatched the night before. He might plop a wig on their head, tell them to wiggle their bottoms and spotlight them in his comedic Instagram Reels. At the same time, he holds monthly company-wide meetings to hash out problems and “make sure everyone is happy,” he says. “These meetings provide great opportunities to get feedback, course-correct, and hear out any employee who needs to get something off their chest.”

In other words, engage your Millennial and Gen Z employees, and they will, in turn, become more engaged and productive employees. And they’re less likely to skip out on you for a job that pays an extra one buck an hour. “Companies with engaged workforces experience higher profitability—21% higher, in fact,” Belle Wong noted in an August 15 article on Forbes.com. “Which means prioritizing company culture can have a significant impact on your organization’s financial returns.”

“[Gen Z is] not motivated by money. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but they want to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”
—Bianca Calascibetta, Cam’s Pizzeria

At Cam’s Pizzeria in upstate New York, district manager Giuliana Calascibetta is building a culture that stresses employees’ personal development and growth. (Photo by Bianca Calascibetta)

Your pizzeria’s success largely depends on today’s younger workers, so you need to make them feel as valuable as that regular who comes in every Thursday for a meat lovers pie. Get to know them, find out what makes them tick and what they want to do with their lives, Giuliana says.

“I tell my employees, ‘I hope you don’t come into work just thinking you’re going to get a paycheck and leave,’” she says. “The most valuable thing everybody has is their time, right? So I say to my employees, ‘You’re working 40 hours a week and making money, and, of course, it’s great. But what about the value of you working on yourself and your personal goals while you’re at work? Maybe you’re not confident. So let’s work on speaking to customers more and learning their name and having them learn your name.’ There’s so much value in that. Money’s replaceable. Your time is not replaceable. And I think that’s the most important thing. I believe that. And my employees know I believe that. So they apply that to themselves.”