How to Attract and Retain Gen Z Workers with Pedro Ortiz

In this episode of The Widest Net Podcast, I am excited to talk with my kids’, Josh and Angie’s boss, Pedro Ortiz. This is both their first jobs and they absolutely LOVE working with and for Pedro. I knew I wanted to have a conversation with Pedro after just a few months of Josh working at The Buffalo Spot, but first, born in 1968 in Oakdale, California, Pedro Ortiz is a firstborn generation of Mexican immigrants. He’s married with two children, an US Air Force veteran, retired police officer after 25 years with the Mesa Police Department, and currently the Owner and Manager of The Buffalo Spot in Mesa, Arizona. 


We have all heard in the media how hard it is to retain good workers these days specially in fast food and for someone to have the ability to attract and retain Generation Z employees peeked my interest and I wanted to know the secret sauce.


Here’s the full transcript from the episode:

Introducing Pedro Ortiz


Today is a very special episode because I get to have an in depth conversation with both of my children’s first and current boss. Born in 1968 in Oakdale, California, Pedro Ortiz is a firstborn generation of Mexican immigrants. He’s married with two children, a son and a daughter. Pedro is an US Air Force veteran, retired police officer after 25 years with the Mesa Police Department, and currently the owner manager of The Buffalo Spot in Mesa, Arizona. Welcome to the widest net podcast Pedro.



Thank you. So first, I just want to thank you, as a mom for giving our kids the best first job experience they could ever have. Well, you’re welcome. It’s I think your kids are great. So it’s, it’s fun how we first got connected with you through windrock. But Josh was doing soccer, there were some of the some of the kids that were meros, who were on the soccer team who were working for you. And that’s I think, when he first heard about it, I knew once Josh started working, that I really wanted to interview just a couple of months into his first job, because he came home one day, and he was like, I would work for free for Pedro, whatever he needs, I am there. And so with all we hear in the media about how hard it is to attract and retain Gen Z workers, I think, especially in restaurants, can you define anything different that you do as a business owner to invoke such loyalty?


How Pedro Invokes Such Loyalty From His Gen Z Workers


Well, I don’t think I do anything specific. I try and find what interests the kids and and pay attention. In other words, take an interest in what they’re interested in. Really, for the most part, that’s how I spend my day with them when I do end up working with them during the day, so



and so you so as you said, just kind of working with him as in conversation, as you’re like, are you listening to what they’re talking about? Or asking them specific questions? I think I ask a lot of questions that that’s one thing I do ask, I try and figure out what it is that. First off, I asked how their day went.



And usually that kind of sets me off to what our conversations can be for the day when they’re when we’re working together.



And part of it is that they have that I hope they understand that we are working together that they’re not just they’re working, um, they’re watching them work that we’re, they’re doing it at the same time. So I think they kind of



respond to that, that they’re part of, you know, they’re not just they’re working, they’re there, you know,



with someone else, at the same time going through the same thing, I guess you might say, Yeah, and I know, just from conversation with the kids, there are times maybe when you’re checking in and asking how some of them are that sometimes they’re not doing so well. And one thing I noticed is you do provide space where they can step away, they could go to the back room, they can kind of take some time, what What is your thought about that about how you just provide that space, I think it’s important for, for me to have patience on a lot of a lot of things because there’s a lot of times where maybe my day isn’t going perfectly, and you want to make sure that that isn’t translated to them.



And at the same time, you at the same time I think well maybe their day isn’t going great either. And I may not be able to help them with that, but I can give them the space to kind of work through it on their own type thing because there have been issues that have come up and you do notice when they come in that they’re extra quiet or they’re



you can just tell they’re not the normal kid that gets that comes into work on a regular basis. So it does happen so yeah, and it seems to do the job and just you know, knowing that they can have the space to do that you’re not going to be getting on them for it and many times just from the stories I hear you know it sounds like they can come back around you know or if it’s really they’re not doing well then they can you know they can go home but I appreciate that it’s one of the things in the broader conversations about the workplace and you know having environments where individuals mental health you know emotional well being is taken into consideration which I really hear reflected in the way you you look at the work you do with them Well boy look at it is there’s more than than just the job, there’s a life outside the job and



you know, if the job gets in the way, one of the things I talked to him when I first talked to the kids when they come in to interview and I really don’t interview as so much more to have a chat with them. See what you know, what they’re interested in, and what they like and what they do in school and



So it’s not what kind of experience do you have, obviously, because it’s the first time job, they’re not going to have a whole lot of experience. But I am interested in what they’re doing, what what they’re doing at school, and how that affects what, when they’re going to be available to work. And so I do take that into consideration because a lot of them for kids today, it’s more about their social interaction that they have that they want to be part of something. And they’re, you know, the whole being on the phone all the time. It seems like that, to me, they don’t want to miss out on anything. So when I give them the flexibility to,



you know, work there, I work around their schedule as best I can, so that they can do that so that they can, the job isn’t everything. There’s life outside the job. And as long as they come to work, and they’re working when they’re working, then that’s all I need from them. So yeah, one of the My Favorite Things to observe in the work culture is how much fun that they have both inside and outside of work together. You clearly know because I’m sure they talk about it all the time that Josh Aiden and Tony in particular are very passionate about boxing and MMA. And then the summer they worked up an elaborate be spot Boxing Tournament. What did they call it again? Do you remember it was the gizmo



something something related to gizmo? Fight Club, I think is what yeah, it was like gizmo fight. And it’s gizmo like an app that you use in the business or what is gizmo? Is Gizmo is actually the name of my company? Oh, okay. And it was kind of an odd thing, because it’s actually named after one of our first dogs and passed away. My daughter chose the name. And it kind of threw Aiden off when he found out that that’s what it was named.



Right. But it was so fun. They just picked it up right there. They wanted to make that be the name of that tournament. They had, they had an elaborate tournament, they did a press conference, I don’t know if you got a chance to see the video, which was hilarious that they shot in the B spot where they filmed it just as you would before a big Boxing Tournament with each of the fighters. And then they had the tournament itself. And then your daughter created a winner’s belt with a cardboard cutout of a chicken as the medallion. And to me, it’s just such a great example of team building that really comes organically, you know, from the team like working together and having fun. Is there anything that you do to encourage it like as you notice, they were they were starting to do it? What What was your response? My response was, be careful.



You know, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. And I knew that Josh was a little bit more advanced in his skills



than Tony and Aiden. So I was a little concerned.



But after they explained to me what, what their process was as far as, okay, we’re going to Tony’s gonna go first. And then



the only the only and Aiden was gonna go second, that type thing. We’re thinking, Okay, we’re not going to overwhelm anyone with how their the outcome of the fight was going to be. And it was I wanted to make sure and I did mention a couple of times that I wanted to be friendly that was there was there going to be it was going to stay friendly and it was going to start being friendly. It was going to end friendly. Yeah, I knew that. That’s but you know, sometimes boys, adrenaline level can get up there. And so as long as they were keeping an eye on those things, I was hoping that things were gonna go well, so. And they did seem to have fun. And Josh got the belt as expected.



No huge shock there. Right. They continue, they continue to really train with each other. And I love it. I love what you’re saying. Because yes, being a parent as well. And I actually did MMA so I did martial arts a lot in my background, so I I’m familiar with it, but I know what you’re saying of sometimes the line in teenagers minds about like, what is safe and fun is a little bit different, you know, from ours, but I do love that you were aware you were in conversation and they they did really take care of each other had a referee there, and all those kinds of things. It was more I think, almost looking more like those demonstration tournaments that you have just more for fun, rather than, you know, a serious one. But those kinds of things I think in the culture, especially where they just have so much time to be preparing and have such a creative outlet is just really priceless in terms of how people feel connected to the business.



Well, I really appreciate how they



They talk positively about the buffalo spot about their work. They go out there, they’re ambassadors for you know, getting other kids to want to work at the buffalo spot. And that’s one of the tough things right now. Like you said, finding



employees that want to work in fast food especially. So, for me,



I really appreciate the kids. I really do. They put in a lot of work sometimes. And sometimes I’m desperate for someone to come in, and someone will step up. And I really do appreciate that that’s hard to find, like you said.


Prom At The Buffalo Spot


We were talking the other day about prom that I know Did, did you ever hear about during COVID How all the problems were shut down. We ended up doing a prom for the kids at the buffalo spa, they held the prom there. It was the first batch of employees that we had. I know Aiden was there. Tony was there. I think,



thought of the remainder, those are the two that are still working for me. The others are off at school.



But we did the through prom, they set it up, we decorated the whole restaurant and closed it down a little bit early. And they had their prom, my daughter made sure that everybody had their COVID tests before they showed up. And so we did all those things that were



that I thought was appropriate and that was my one concern during that time. But she made sure everybody was good to go. And they had their prom and it was fun for them to watch them on the planet.



We ended up decorating, and they went through their pictures. And when we decorated my wife and I there was some hope for some other parents. We decorated the restaurant and it was beautiful. I mean, it was they



it was kind of interesting, because they ate and said the other day, you know, that’s the problem, the only problem I’ll ever have, because they didn’t get a prom after that.


Using Technology In Business


That’s right. It was good. It was a good thing. And it just really does bring to life, this idea that as you said, first the themes I’m hearing is you really are in partnership with them. You’re tuning into what’s important to them, but also just creating the space of your business, which obviously serves good food to people, which is the primary purpose. But it can be a place that they enjoy being at even when they’re not working. Sometimes you know, Josh will go in and just hang out with folks even when on his day off again, which is a bit unheard of. And a lot of the kids when they go away to college, when they come back on breaks that they often want to jump into the rotation. Yes. Which is what helps me. So



there’s one thing, it’s more on the technology side that I think is really smart that for scheduling that they the kids use an app so that when there is a request for somebody to come in and take a shift that they can just do all of that, was that a really conscious decision that you made to just keep things flexible, especially knowing like all the activities that kids had, I think the flexibility thing was Yes, something I knew I had to keep going just because of the situation where we were at at the time. And it seems to be working now.



I do try to stress that they need to be as flexible as I am sometimes. And they do help that way too. Some of them want more hours than others. And that allows them to switch their shifts as best, you know, whenever they need to. There’s a few times where I think a couple of them have, hey, I want that shift, or No, I don’t want that shift. And they work it out. And I don’t even need to know about it. So some new person shows up. So as long as somebody shows up, I’m fine with it, whoever it is it shows up. So yeah, it’s really the best use of something like that. Because you can just imagine if you are in the middle of it trying to text back and forth with everybody will probably stop them sometimes from wanting to bother you or get in the middle of it. And it’s just a really smart use of technology, I think.



So now both my kids have it on their phone


The Fabled Gift of The Polo Shirt


to pick it up, pick it up shifts, when I learned about the fabled gift of the polo shirt, which is when you single out a worker who has demonstrated great performance and you give them a polo shirt, I think $1 An hour raise. How do you decide when and who to award the shirts to? You know, that’s, that is? I say it just that person just kind of pops up.



It’s not that I don’t set it, I don’t set a bar.



I just that person just seems to be there when it’s when it’s that time.



Like I can say, well, this person is obviously they’re regular. They’re always picking up extra shifts. When I go in and they and they close that night and I go in and everything’s the way it should be. And it just kind of develops to where that person is ready for that and you’d be amazed I was I was actually surprised



With how much it meant for the shirt more than anything else.



I didn’t realize that, that it was going to be that until they started talking about it. And I was like, they’re like, you know, expecting the shirt, as opposed to anything else. I was like, Okay, I get it, you know. But I was actually surprised by that myself. It wasn’t something I did intentionally, it was just something that happened with the shirt. So it’s really how is observing it? Because, yeah, I just started talking about it. And what I like that is just mirrored in a lot of good leadership practices is really catching people doing something, right. Noticing, letting them know through something like that, that you really are paying attention to not just who they are, but also how it is that they’re performing. And it is neat, and just noticing how it can drive positive performance. And I think there’s something about the relationship that they have with you as well, where you know, it feels good to be recognized, and to know that, that you’re noticing that they’re really putting in the extra effort.



When Josh got home with his polo shirt, we were very excited. So of course, I took a mom’s social media picture right away.



Well, that’s good. I’m glad. It’s funny, because I don’t think that’s kind of a thing to where it’s actually one of my weaknesses when it comes to recognizing.



Honestly, I think I don’t recognize people as much as I should. I just think back to my previous career as a police officer, I was



a supervisor.



And I used to, in my mind, see good work. And it would take me a while to realize that maybe I should acknowledge the good work.



It’s because sometimes I would think, well, that’s just part of your job. And it took me a while to to realize that people do need that sometimes more, sometimes more than anything else, Hey, you did a good job or



so it took me a while to learn that myself. It wasn’t something that I just did automatically, I realized that I was maybe short on that. So I had to pick up, especially with dealing with younger people that



I didn’t know for a long time. So



I do try to do a little bit better there and acknowledge when they do a good job and ask questions when maybe something didn’t go quite as well as questions what the train of thought was, is how we got to that point, what got missed, or so I do ask a lot of questions. Maybe sometimes they think I’m asking too many questions. Maybe they just want to get on to what they’re supposed to be doing.



And I do sometimes waste some of their time with



I guess some stories or conversations that we have.



But it’s interesting to see them kind of understand that, Hey, maybe I do. I do want to hear about their day. You know, it’s hard enough with my own kids, you know, when you get your kids, so how was your day at school? It was fine. So, you know, work, they, some of them are more open, and some you have to work a little bit more and



getting comfortable with you, I guess to talk to you about their day. So yeah, well, and I was curious, just looking at the trajectory you had prior, you know, in your career in the Air Force and being a police officer and then jumping into entrepreneurship. What was that journey? Like? Is that something you’ve always wanted to do is to own a business or did it emerge? I think it emerged only maybe out of boredom, because actually, I was retired for five years before I got into opening the buffalo spot. So I was already retired and Gizmo, our dog, was on the couch, you know, for quite a while watching TV or not really doing anything. So a little bit came out of boredom.


From Air Force to Police Force to Entrepreneurship


And a little bit came out of wanting to build something to where,



you know, help, you know, pay the bills, especially since I knew my kids’ colleges were coming right up. So



find a way to pay for college where it wasn’t going to be too much of a strain. I just didn’t realize we were going to hit a pandemic right at the start there. So I know it’s been rough. Have you? Was it a struggle like going through the pandemic? And then do you notice a difference now? Oh, no, we’re steadily improving. Obviously, the economy right now has an issue. causes issues. So we’re not growing as fast as I would like us to be growing. But we are improving past COVID. I was COVID was very dark. It was very, it was a struggle because we oh, we were open two months and then COVID hit. So it was one of those things to where



Aidan and Antonia



You’re still talking about how,



how hard it was during that time. Because they weren’t, they were still working. Aiden was



one of the first employees. In fact, he or she opened with us. And Tony came in maybe a month later. So he was he, they both went through COVID. And it was, it was some long days for all of us. So



It’s interesting when I hear them talk about it, that they still have that memory of working during that time. So yeah, we’ve seen it a lot here in downtown Mesa. It’s one of the reasons it was difficult for so many people across so many different sectors, but especially where you weren’t providing food, often for people who were unable to, you know, to get out. But from the business perspective, I think if you can survive something like that, especially just a couple months after opening, it does bode well for how then when it’s not there, you can really survive. Now, it’s been 27 years and business for me this year. And every time there’s something, you know, like the pandemic pandemic we hadn’t seen before. But like the economic blip, the thing that does give me comfort is just knowing that I’ve lived through it before. And there are certain things that you can learn that just keep you steady, you know, focused on the right things, which I think you are creating a great environment, you know, really creating great food connecting with your customers, and then, you know, finding that edges of, of how it is you can grow. Do you have specific goals for growth? Like in the next couple of years, what would you like to see happen? Well, I would love to see, you know, us get to where where ourselves to where I can actually step away,


The Future of The Buffalo Spot


to where I would be able to say if I want to work, I’ll come into work, if I don’t want to work I’m not gonna go in today. But that is probably a good, maybe another 12 months away, at this point. So it’s there, I can see it. But it’s still a little ways away to where I feel absolutely comfortable saying I don’t have to go, I don’t have to be there every day.



The issues, originally was hoping to get more than one store, but ended that that that for the near future, only because to build another store,



they would have taken what it took to keep this store open. So and that’s, that’s pretty much gone for a while.



So we’re going to try to make this store the best store that we can and get it to that point to where I can say, you know, I can step away from it.



Hopefully that happens. If not, you know, maybe I move on to something else and someone else can. I hope that doesn’t, it doesn’t take that.



Because I do see the potential and I still see the growth.



And that’s the hope that I can do that just let it run itself at some point. I love that well, and part of the story that I see, you know, just putting on my marketing hat for a second, I always love it whenever there’s content that is generated from the kids. And it’s a pretty compelling story for people to know, not only did they get good food, but also it is a great spot for their kids to have their first job like a good working environment. And that is something that I think is really significant when kids are trying to figure out what to do. And the more that you have them involved, you know, in social media, in sharing about what’s happening, just reflecting the great culture that’s there. I think it just really strengthens that case. So I always do everything I can to send people your way. But that would be one thing is you do have such a special thing happening of maybe amping up a little bit not just talking about the food, but talking about the kind of culture that you have the environment and you know, the kids are the best that that my what I do there is mostly I try to keep it running that’s that’s that’s my job.



And they



my if it wasn’t for honest my wife I don’t know if we’d still be open just because she’s the one that kind of keeps me focused and



lets me know hey, maybe you need to



take a step back a little bit or maybe you need to focus on this or



and not be so mean so



and I guess the idea is that the kids



I want them to have fun. You should mean a job is a job. You obviously have to work but you shouldn’t hate your job. You should should never hate your job and every job should be anything that you do any experience should be a learning experience it whether it’s a mistake, or whether



It’s something good, but you should always, every boss should teach you something, whether it can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing. I had plenty of bosses that I wanted to. I don’t want to say hate because that’s a strong word, but that I did not appreciate how they were my boss. So when going through those, I always told myself, I’m not going to be that boss, I am going to be totally the opposite of that. So they taught me something by showing me some by modeling something negative that I knew I wasn’t going to do, if I ever did become the boss.



And I tried to do that through my supervisory years as a police officer.



And it helped me out. And I think the beneficiaries of my mellowness throughout the years have been the kids today. So I mean, and I take advantage of the fact that they like working there.



As much as they enjoy working there, I enjoy working with them, I do enjoy spending time, sometimes, you know, just chatting about something other than the buffalo spot. So



It’s interesting to see, they teach me new things, and I try to teach them as well. So it’s a two way street. I love that my last book was called Body of Work. And I define that as everything you create, you contribute, you affect and you impact throughout the course of your life. And so it really does speak to me and what you’re doing that, yes, you’re providing a first place of employment where they can get a paycheck, learn how to work. But it’s also giving them, I think, a huge life lesson, having that impact of having a positive mentor, somebody that they can aspire to. As a longtime career coach, I’ve heard many stories, often, as you said, people are wanting to escape where they’re working to not be that boss. And when you have as a first experience, somebody who is really tuned in to doing it, right, I think it makes a big difference. So I just want to make sure that you know that, you know, from my perspective, it’s you’re really doing something that is special that goes far beyond and from a legacy perspective,



serving food and providing employment, I really appreciate it. Well, I appreciate you saying that. I wish I knew what it was honestly, so I could say, Hey, this is what I honestly don’t. I don’t know what it is that I do differently. Other than maybe listen, and have a little bit more patience. And it’s hard. It’s sometimes hard to be patient to be honest, but it isn’t. It isn’t hard to be patient. with them. It’s more patient with yourself to where



you have to ask yourself, Well, did they make a mistake? Because you didn’t train them? Right?



That’s, you have to ask yourself that question too. So, again, I don’t know what I’m doing differently. You know, I appreciate what you’re saying that I’m doing a good job, which I like to hear.



But I really don’t know if I’m doing anything, you know, special. So


How To Find The Buffalo Spot


I think some of the stories that listeners heard today, just really listening, truly paying attention. Having empathy, looking at the whole person is underestimated in terms of what a big difference that makes, and then using technology, you know, successfully and all those other things. For people who are local, where can they find the best spot both physically and also online? Well, we’re located physically at 2837 North Power Road Suite 104 in Mesa, Arizona, which is the cross streets of Power and McDowell in East Mesa,



where you go to buffalo for the order online, or we are also available on any of the DoorDash UberEats GrubHub. So they can order through those platforms as well. I love that. Well. Thanks for spending time with me this morning. And we look forward to stopping by as we always do as a family to get some dinner as well. Well, thank you. Thanks, Pedro. Yep, good day. You too.

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