Michael Morin and his brother Bryan were beginning to gear up for a new year at their family-owned pizza shop in New Jersey. Then, out of the blue, Covid-19 changed the scope of what their bustling business would look like going into the Spring of 2020. Faced with state mandated closure of walk-in businesses, their first thoughts were of the 20 employees that were the cornerstone of their success. So, following the advice of their father to “always take care of the people who take care of you”, they took quick action to secure a $50,000 loan to ensure that they wouldn’t lose any staff. When word got out of their selfless act, the public response was immediate.
Chris Straigis – 0:01
Welcome to Scrappy, the podcast about small companies doing big things. I’m your host, Chris Straigis.
Michael Morin – 0:09
My father always said take care of the people that take care of you. These guys and girls that work for me are all just top shelf. And without them, I don’t have a business.
Chris Straigis – 0:21
It’s been a little while since we wrapped up our first season. In case you missed it, you can go to scrappypod.com to hear the inspiring stories from 10 pretty amazing people. A lot has changed since then. The global pandemic from COVID-19 has affected just about every aspect of our lives. And we’ve had to adapt the best way we can. Throughout this spring in summer, we’re busy building our next season. But in the meantime, we’ve heard so many great stories about ordinary people in small businesses, stepping up their game to take care of others. So we decided to do a couple of many episodes to bring some of those folks to light.
Mike Morin is co owner of Federico’s Pizza in New Jersey. When the governor made the decision to close most walk in businesses in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Mike and his brother Bryan sprung into action, in an effort to take care of the people that work for them, even while Bryan caught the virus as well.
Michael Morin – 1:24
My name is Michael Morin. I am co owner of Federico’s Pizza in Belmar, 700 Main Street, Belmar, New Jersey. Federico has been in business, I think we’re going on 25 years now. So we’re pretty much established.
Chris Straigis – 1:30
It’s a family business, right?
Michael Morin – 1:42
Yeah. My father was always, you know, in the corporate trucking industry. And he, you know, it’s just like a lot of other people they, you know, corporate burns you out. So he said, you know, let’s do something on the side. You know, he had four kids. So and three of us were going through college at the time. And that’s pretty much when we bought it. It was a small store we did a lot of pickup delivery there was only like maybe say 7 tables in the front.
So I think it was 16 or 17 years ago. We bought the building diagonal across the street, which was much bigger. Inside we have 80 seats. Outside we have a patio areas that’s has an awning. So in the summer, we open up the patio. So it’s been it’s been good to us.
Chris Straigis – 2:34
How many how many pizzas do you make on an average day? Not counting COVID average?
Michael Morin – 2:40
Yeah, yeah. On the average? I mean, like a Friday night you’ll do you know 300. In the summer, you know, you know, a couple hundred pies maybe maybe a night? Yeah. And we do a lot of dinners on Saturday. It’s funny Friday nights pizza night, Saturday nights dinner night.
Chris Straigis – 3:05
So let’s dive in a little bit to what we’re talking about today. When you noticed COVID was going to start to present a challenge and and the restrictions were going to start to present a challenge at the very beginning, how were you expecting it to play out? What did you think was gonna happen in terms of from the business front?
Michael Morin – 3:28
So we figured we’d be okay, because like our dining room is more, it’s a lot busier like Friday, Saturday, obviously all year, but in the summer, it’s a lot busier because you get more more of a crowd during the week. It was you know, sporadic, but we thought we’d be okay but we didn’t realize the extent of you know, it’s the first time we ever you know, the government steps in says you got to close your restaurant. Once that hit it was like, ‘holy crow,’ because I think that hit I think we had to close, I think it was on March, I think it was St. Patty’s Day. I think it’s when they they locked us down, and said, you know, you’re pretty much, there’s no inside seating. And then with that we do a lot of catering.
So it took took a huge hit, like, you really you weren’t prepared? Nobody? No, you know, you look around, everybody’s like, you know, you can close for two weeks, a month, whatever. And then how are these people going to survive?
Chris Straigis – 4:28
How many employees do you have? Or did you have at the time?
Michael Morin – 4:31
We have 20. We get a couple more waitresses in the summer, just because like I said, the inside’s a lot busier. That’s pretty much what we keep on.
Chris Straigis – 4:41
You decided at some point to take out a loan as a way to shore up the business to make sure that your employees were taken care of what was walk me through a little bit of the the thought process behind that.
Michael Morin – 4:55
It’s funny, that, it was basically, it was a, it was a two minute discussion, like, ‘hey, Bry, you know, you want to, let’s make sure we have money aside to take care of the people that take care of us all year, and that they’ve helped us through some really harsh times. So let’s, let’s just take money out, and then we’ll put it aside. If we don’t need it, we’ll give it back if, you know, let’s just have it, just in case we need it. And I was like, okay, and that was it. We went got it done.
Chris Straigis – 5:32
Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? You don’t I mean, because it’s, it’s supposed to take care of, you know, the people that are there for you, you know, so for him, and I was kind of like that, you know, it wasn’t even a second thought it was just like, because that’s what you should do. You know?
So, how did the community respond overall?
Michael Morin – 5:53
I was amazed, like, you know, I guess, it was funny, my my delivery guy you know, [unclear] you know, as soon as the story hit, we’re getting calls from all over the United States. People just call and saying ‘thank you,’ people wanting to donate. And we’re like, well, we’re not… the first night I had to go down there. I was off, it was a Sunday. And I kept trying to call to get through and I couldn’t get through. So I went down there. And I ended up staying and working because they was phones were off the hook. And my brother looked at me, he’s like, ‘Mike, I don’t know what’s going on.’ He said, ‘I’m getting calls from like Arkansas. I’m getting calls from Florida like they want to donate. What are we going to do?’
I said, ‘I don’t know Bryan like we’re not taking donations, we didn’t do this for like for donations.’ And then at that point, we said, you know what, like, I was, like I said, it was like a two second conversation. I’m like, ‘you know what, Bry? Let’s take the donations. It’ll keep our people working and we’ll donate the food. We’ll donate the food to the hospitals, the the to police the fire EMTs in the town.
So we got the word out there. You know, we were doing that and people started donating more and we ended up… We go to the hospital, we were in the beginning, for the first month, it’s twice a day. Now we scale back we go at least once a day with donated food. My guys are working. So we got we’ve been taking care of the hospitals.
Chris Straigis – 7:26
You ended up having to close your business for about 10 days, I think right? Because your brother and co owner tested positive.
Michael Morin – 7:34
Yeah, yeah. That was, um, that was a little crazy because he, he was fine. Then he went home. And then in the morning, I got a call. And he said, ‘I don’t really feel good.’ I was like, all right, well, let’s figure this out. And he goes, he’s like ‘my, I have a little fever and a cough.’ I go Alright, so we’re closing because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
If anyone has symptoms or whatever, I’m not gonna put it, we don’t want to put anybody else in jeopardy. So we made the decision within a couple minutes. We said, ‘you know what, we’ll just close it, figure it out.’ He’s gonna go get tested and, and go from there. And thank God we did because he ended up having it. I think it was the right call people were like, but you know, some people were saying, ‘well, you don’t have to close it’ and like even the doctors are saying, ‘well, technically, you don’t have it because you didn’t get the test.’ We’re like, it doesn’t matter. Like we have to close it because I’m not putting anyone else in jeopardy. Like I don’t care. You know, do you have a symptom, you close it. You figure it out later because I noticed you know, a lot of places you know, you see it now the Meatpacking industry, all that stuff like where they’re, they’re making people go to work and it’s just keeps going and just yet spreading and getting worse.
Chris Straigis – 8:58
So how’s your brother doing? Did he did he get very sick
Michael Morin – 9:02
He had a cough for two days and he had a mild fever like 101. That was it for like two days and then he was good. You know, he stayed out for like two weeks. And then we just decided 10 days because the doctor, we spoke with four or five doctors and they said, Well, you know, as long as he’s not there, you’re fine. But we said no, let’s give everybody a break. And then we’ll reopen 10 days later.
Chris Straigis – 9:32
I’m glad to hear that he’s healthy and he came through it.
Michael Morin – 9:35
Okay, thank you.
Chris Straigis – 9:37
So, you sound to me like the kind of guy who who doesn’t generally take a lot of time off. You sound like you love your job. You love to work.
Michael Morin – 9:46
I love what you do.
Chris Straigis – 9:47
What did you do for 10 days.
Michael Morin – 9:51
I love my family too. Like it’s we split it up pretty good, but it I have I love what I do. Before this, it’s so funny, before this is like, everyone always thought ‘I just need a couple days to myself a couple days.’ And then you get it, you’re like, ‘what the heck am I gonna do?’
Chris Straigis – 10:11
Yeah, I know, everybody, I’ve never seen more people ready to go to work in my whole life.
Michael Morin – 10:19
Yeah, even my children like, I have three kids. They’re like, ‘I can’t wait to go back to school.’ I’m like, ‘what?’
Chris Straigis – 10:29
I think that what you’re, you know, what you’re doing with the donations you mentioned a few minutes ago is is very inspiring. Where you you’re donating food to the, to the people on the front line of this thing. It’s It’s such a great such a great kind of thing.
Michael Morin – 10:43
Thank you. It’s, it’s, it’s, it makes you feel good because it makes you feel like you’re doing something. You know, everybody sits there and like, you know, what can I do? What can I do? Well, you know, and that was the one of the biggest things when we had to close for 10 days. I’m like, Damn I’m like… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say that.
Chris Straigis – 11:02
Michael Morin – 11:05
I was like, that was one of the biggest things. I’m like, oh, we were doing, you know, we’ve gone to helping out the health care workers and, you know, we’re doing our thing as best as we could. And then that stopped and that that kind of upset me.
Chris Straigis – 11:19
I was reading an article that was written about you guys and and you had mentioned some some, some advice that your father had given you, when it came time to sort of wrap your head around that two minute conversation of wrapping your head around taking out a loan to make sure your employees recovered. Your dad gave you some good advice, what was that?
Michael Morin – 11:39
My father always said take care of the people that take care of you. I mean, because you can’t really leave them in the street, you know, in a time of need. That’s the thing, these these these guys and girls that work for me are all just top shelf. And without them I don’t have a business. I mean, you got to do something, you know? I think… I just I have so many things going in my head, like, ‘Why can we do this?’ There’s other people that could have done it, my brother and I could have just, you know, just made sure our families were safe and, and to hell with everybody else. But that’s not the type of people we are.
Chris Straigis – 12:19
So now that you’ve lived through, or are living through this, this strange and unique experience of this pandemic, and not knowing exactly how it’s gonna play out for the next couple of months or the next year, what would what would your advice to somebody be?
Michael Morin – 12:41
It’s easy just to give up, but it’s, it’s hard to figure it out. That’s what I’m learning. Like, there’s so much so many different things. So you if you gotta, you know, just figure it out because it’s not going to get figured out for you.
Chris Straigis – 13:02
All right, well here you can settle, you can settle a couple of debates for me, a couple of raging debates. New York style or Chicago style?
Michael Morin – 13:11
Wow. Honestly, I’ve never had, I want to try Chicago style, but I got, you gotta give it to New York style.
Chris Straigis – 13:17
Okay, good, you’ve got too. What’s the most popular pizza?
Michael Morin – 13:22
Most Popular pizza I would say is it’s, I gotta say, it’s gotta be pepperoni. I mean, that’s the number, that’s the number one topping. So I’m gonna say pepperoni. I like pepperoni.
Chris Straigis – 13:38
All right, and the other debate: pineapple or no pineapple?
Michael Morin – 13:43
Oh, man. Wow. I’m gonna say no pineapple. I don’t understand it. I think we sell one a week, maybe? I don’t know why.
Chris Straigis – 14:08
Thanks for listening to Scrappy, you can go to scrappypod.com to listen back to all of Season One. And find us at scrappy pod on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to learn when all new episodes drop, including Season Two coming up later this year.