Proud Winner of Pizza Hut Award Strengthens the Culture of Belonging
Published 7 minutes ago
Proposed by Yum! Brands
Shack Life | Pizza Hut Official Blog
Maria Alston is an outstanding veteran leader of the Summit Restaurant Group franchisee who has gone above and beyond to create a culture of belonging in her organization’s restaurants. She is heavily involved in her community and has been incredibly brave in recent years, sharing her personal story of how racial injustice has impacted her work family as well as her personal family.
She’s genuine, vulnerable, brave, and truly knows how to create an environment where customers and team members feel like they belong…and feel like part of the Pizza Hut® restaurant family. Her team says she’s resourceful, approachable and loves what she does. She truly empowers her team to create and foster real connections with each other.
That’s why she recently received the Pizza Hut Proud Award, presented by Pizza Hut, LLC US Chief People Officer Jamie Harrison and Chief Operations Officer Chequan Lewis, pictured above left and Alston right. And that’s why Pizza Hut, LLC wants to share more about Maria!
Maria, how do you create a culture of belonging in your restaurants?
I’m not afraid to share myself with my team. They really are my family and they know I would do anything for them like they do for me. My team shares the best and worst moments in everyone’s life – graduations, weddings, baby showers, birthdays, illnesses and funerals. We have always celebrated and cried together.
I started my first semester at Excelsior University this summer hoping to receive my business degree. My goal is to show my team that working at a Pizza Hut® restaurant can make other things possible and help us be the best.
A few years ago, during a local protest, one of the restaurants you manage was damaged and you helped bring the community together. What other community events do you attend?
I don’t do this alone or by myself. I have a large group of managers who make all of this happen. The restaurants I manage are near a military base. Not only is there a close relationship with military families, but my team members know the families by name. Recently, restaurant teams near the military base attended a ceremony in remembrance of fallen service members and provided food for families.
My restaurant managers and staff donate clothing, adopt families during the holidays, and donate food weekly through the Harvest program to the Brother Beno Foundation which feeds families in need of a hot meal. The team also works with Teri Inc., a non-profit organization that provides training for people with autism and other disabilities, training individuals to help them empower themselves.
How do you think the Pizza Hut brand has progressed since the protests and what do you think is next?
I think talking, listening and showing support to our people was a huge first step. At a time when I felt helpless, scared, and insecure, I can’t begin to explain how empowering it was to have Pizza Hut, LLC president at the time, Kevin Hochman, say Pizza Hut opposes racism, oppression, violence, hatred or intolerance towards black people.
Many businesses were closing their doors and were unhappy that people were protesting in their streets. COO and CPO of Summit Restaurant Group supported us by allowing its employees to take time off work to protest and provide water and pizza to the protesters. Summit Restaurant Group was not afraid of negative feedback because its employees come first.
The next step is to continue to welcome and showcase Summit Restaurant Group employees for who they really are. Continue to stand up for and be proud of people of different genders, religions, sexual orientations, abilities and ethnicities. Keep listening, speaking up, and making changes as we continue to educate ourselves. But more than anything, Summit Restaurant Group trains its leaders to build relationships. Exclusion is not always voluntary; too often people are simply unaware of their actions and the repercussions.
What did it mean to you to be recognized with the Pizza Hut Proud award?
I can’t put this feeling into words. I never intended to do all of this for recognition, but for a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and hopefully to inspire others to speak up and be proud of who they are. are. My team inspires me because they are all very different and we have all been through so much. These struggles remind us that true leadership is about how we make others feel. Speaking out can make a huge difference for an individual or for an entire community. I was just thrilled to feel heard and understood and to know that pizza is just a small part of who we are.
Yum! Brands, Inc., based in Louisville, Kentucky, has more than 54,000 restaurants in more than 155 countries and territories, operating the company’s brands – KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell – world leaders in the chicken, pizza and of mexican style food. The company’s family of brands also includes The Habit Burger Grill, a fast-casual restaurant concept specializing in burgers, sandwiches and more. Yum! Brands was named to the 2021 Dow Jones Sustainability Index in North America and was ranked on Newsweek’s list of America’s Most Responsible Companies in 2021. In 2022, Yum! Brands was named one of 3BL Media’s Top 100 Corporate Citizens.
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