“Teamwork makes the dream work”, said John Maxwell, best-selling author and speaker on organizational leadership. Recently, White Management saw the dream of teamwork firsthand as a group of KFC and Taco Bell employees from Plattsburgh and Malone stepped out of their normal routines to help out one of their sister restaurants in Queensbury, New York.
The KFC in Queensbury closed early on a Friday in mid-September after a potential coronavirus exposure, sending all employees home to self-quarantine and test. Tawnya Hanson (VP of Operations), Brian White (President), Bubba Kelley (KFC/TB ASL), and Curtis Fisher (KFC-Queensbury manager) had been on the phone throughout the day, trying to figure out a path forward. Their hope was to keep the store running with a back-up team from up north, but they were dealing with a number of factors including an overall shortage of employees across the company and fear of virus exposure.
“I went to my managers—Brenna [KFC/TB-Malone], Mike [KFC-Plattsburgh], and Mari [Taco Bell-Plattsburgh]—and explained the situation. I said that we wanted to take over the store until their regular employees could return,” recalls Kelley. “Some employees were scared. Even I was a little concerned.” Kelley and his wife are raising three young boys at home.
Kelley vividly remembers David Melbie’s response, an employee at the Taco Bell in Plattsburgh.
“Yea, whatever you need help with, I’m in,” Melbie replied. That initial show of support was very meaningful to Kelley.
Kelley reviewed the situation with the team, and shared his understanding that the Queensbury team would all be in quarantine and not mixing with the team from up north. Other employees soon fell in line, offering to help out. Thorne Mussaw, Evan Lamica, and Darren Taylor agreed to come from the KFC/TB-Malone. Zachary Frechette, Cameron Hanson-Brown, Donald King, and Jacob Simmons stepped in from KFC-Plattsburgh.
The volunteer team met at 8 AM Monday morning at the KFC in Plattsburgh and drove south to Queensbury, caravan-style. They arrived to join White, who had gotten a head-start on cleaning and disinfecting the store. Fisher had also been cleaning, but left as the volunteer team arrived so as to avoid potential exposure.
“The store was pretty messy, and Brian was there cleaning,” Cameron Hanson-Brown, a shift supervisor at KFC-Plattsburgh who has been with the company for over three years, recalls. “We all jumped right in, cleaning the store, and then we started to open.” The store opened at 1 PM that Monday, and continued an 11 AM to 7 PM schedule for the remainder of the week.
Darren Taylor, a crew member at the KFC-Malone who has been trained as a shift supervisor, also recalls the store being “in bad shape” when he arrived.
“We had to throw out some expired food. Evan and I focused on the dishes while Thorne focused on the kitchen.” Taylor had been to the area several years ago for a visit to the Great Escape, but had never been to the store.
Hanson-Brown and Simmons worked together to run the store, reporting to Kelley; Mussaw cooked the chicken; Frechette took over packing the sides; King and Melbie ran the drive-thru, and Lamica packed their orders.
The volunteer team stayed at the Quality Inn, a short walk from the store. To Hanson-Brown, things went really well. “We all actually really liked it. We got along and were really cool with each other. When we weren’t working, we definitely had fun. . . We hung out together, went swimming in the pool, watched football. And the food—there were so many different options [like Texas Roadhouse, Little Caesar’s, and Chipotle].”
“I also learned that each store does things differently. . . we learned certain things from each other, and got some better ideas.” Hanson-Brown also talked about the opportunity to meet new and interesting people. The first shift of Queensbury workers began to return to work on Friday (they had begun quarantine the previous week). One of the returning workers was Kevin Hastings, a war veteran who had done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “He got blown up by a grenade,” Hanson-Brown had learned as he worked side-by-side with Hastings.
“I enjoyed working with the guys from Plattsburgh, learning what they do differently, and seeing their point of view on things. They were really friendly.” Taylor adds. He said the best part of the situation was, knowing that another team was hurting and worried, being able to “go down and pick their store up off the ground” so that once the employees were cleared, they could return to their jobs. He also spoke of the benefit of being taken out of his comfort zone, working with new people, and having to refocus on his job. “I put my head down and worked,” he said. And lastly, Taylor learned about an open position at the Plattsburgh KFC he may want to pursue.
The volunteer team from Malone was able to head home Friday afternoon; the team from Plattsburgh headed out Friday evening. Kelley, who had gone home midweek to homeschool his boys, returned to Queensbury for Friday and Saturday. Brenna Carrigan joined Kelley on Saturday. By the following Thursday, Queensbury was back to normal hours with their original team.
All the stores whose employees volunteered had to rethink their hours so they could still operate: some closed their dining rooms and directed all business to the drive-thru; others cut back their hours. They all made sacrifices that allowed the Queensbury store to operate while employees safely awaited clearance to return to work.
“I would definitely do it again,” Taylor offered. Hanson-Brown agreed.
“I thought it was a good experience,” Kelley reflected. “Bringing a different team down and taking over a store. . . We kept the company going and income coming in.”
A HUGE HEARTFELT THANK YOU to the KFC and Taco Bell teams who joined together to make this happen. We simply could not have done it without you. And congratulations to Curtis Fisher and his Queensbury team, who have gotten right back to beating their weekly sales budget.